Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield, D.D., LL.D., Litt.D.: A Memorial Address

by Francis L. Patton1

B. B. Warfield Portrait 7Princeton Theological Seminary is walking today in the shadow of an eclipse which in various degrees of visibility has been observed, I doubt not, throughout the greater part of the Christian world. Men may agree with Dr. Warfield or they may differ from him, but they must recognize his unswerving fidelity to what he believed to be the truth. Students of theology in whatever Christian communions they may he fonnd must recognize him as an earnest coworker in defending the authority and contents of the New Testament and in vindicating the central doctrines of our common Christianity. Nothing but ignorance of his exact scholarship, wide learning, varied writings, and the masterly way in which he did his work should prevent them from uniting with us today in the statement that a prince and a great man has fallen in Israel.


I remember the shock which passed through this community when word went out that Dr. A. A. Hodge was dead. He had succeeded his father as his father had succeeded Dr. Archibald Alexander in the Chair of Systematic Theology. Less learned than his father, he was a man of greater genius. He was a deductive theologian. While giving proper regard to the exegetical support in behalf of each doctrine of the New Testament, the fact that it was the obvious and necessary consequence of another doctrine conceded to be true had a controlling influence over his mind, the consistcncy of Scripture being with him a foregone conclusion. He was a man of wide reading and keen metaphysical insight. He also had a vivid imagination and a sensitive emotional nature whose united influence produced some very remarkable results when he reached the heights of extemporaneous eloquence.

When the question of his successor arose, our minds turned naturally to Dr. Warfield, then Professor of New Testament Criticism and Exegesis in the Western Theological Seminary, Allegheny, Pennsylvania. I recall today the delight with which Dr. C. W. Hodge welcomed his fonner pupil to the chair which his father and his brother had successively filled.

In his young manhood of those days Dr. Warfield was a most imposing figure. Tall, erC1:t, with finely moulded features and singular grace and courtesy of demeanor, he borc the marks of a gentleman to his finger-tips. There was something remarkable in his voice. It had the liquid softness of the South rather than the metallic resonance which we look for in those who breathe the crisp air of a northern climate. His public utterances took the form of a conversational tone, and his sentences often closed with the suggestion of a rising inflation, as if inviting a hospitable reception from his hearers. He lacked the clarion tones of impassioned oratory, but oratory of this kind was not natural to him. He kept the calm level of deliberate spee:h, and his words proceeded Qut of his mouth as if the.y walked on velvet. But public speaking was not his chosen fonn of self-expression. He was pre-eminently a scholar and lived among his books. With the activities of the Church he had comparatively little to do. He seldom preached in our neighboring cities, was not prominent in the debates of the General Assembly, was not a member of any of the Boards of our Church, did not serve on committees, and wasted no energy in the pleasant but perhaps unprofitable pastime of after-dinner speaking. As was to be expected, therefore, he was too much of a recluse to be what is known as a popular man. His public was small, but it covered a wide area and he reached it with his pen. Throug~ the pages of the Presbyterian and Reformed Review and later of the Princeton Theological Review, he was speaking regularly to men who waited eagerly to see what he had to say conceming the latest book on New Testament Criticism or the most recent phase of theological opinion. It is difficult, of course, to estimate the influence he exerted in this way, but geographically speaking’it was widely extended, and I may be pardoned perhaps for saying somewhat extravagantly that his line has gone out into all the earth and his words to the end of the world. His writings impress me as the fluent, easy, offhand expression of himself. He wrote with a running pen, in simple, unaffected English, but with graceful diction, and only a moderate display of documented erudition. His weapon in controversy was the sword and not the battle-axe. His gleamingblade had a keen edge, but the quarfe and tierce of logical encounter went o.n without loss of temper or lapse of good behaviour. His mental machinery was in constant use. It never rusted and was always ready for the work it had to do.

Something is undoubtedly lost in the transfer of thought to the printed page. We see it through a glass-darkly, sometimes because we look through a doudy medium, and sometimes the prismatic colours of the lens have a confusing effect upon our vision. But Dr. Warfield’s style was the servant of his thoughts and expressed them accurately and dearly. He made no phrases, pointed no epigrams, nor did he have the habit of putting his own image and superscription on some common coin of speech and sending it forth as his seal and sign-manual of originality.

Dr. Warfield’s writings consist mainly of sermons, lectures, theological treatises, reviews and historico-critical essays on phases of contemporary theological opinion. These essays and reviews have appeared in various periodical publications, hut most of them are garnered in the Theological Review, of which he was for many years the Editor, and there they wait for further distribution through the labours of his literary executors.


If we wish to put a proper estimate upon Dr. Warfield’s work, we must fully understand his theological position, and the key to that position is his unfaltering belief in the inspiration of the Old and New Testaments. He was not a philosophical theologian who tried to translate the doctrines of the New Testament into the language of idealistic metaphysics, nor an apologetic theologian who sought to defend the central doctrines of Christianity on the basis of a conceded minimum of historical truth. He was a dogmatic theologian who based the content of his teaching on the plain and obvious meaning of the inspired Word. He had first-hand knowledge of the attacks that have been made upon the authority and meaning of the gospel narrative and knew well how the admissions of those who lea”e us to choose between a human Jesus in a tntc gospel and a divine Jesus in a false gospel help to reinforce our faith. He knew how the deity of Christ could be maintained on the simple ground of historicity, but he made no abatement of his belief in the Bible’s inspiration, and like a wise general he knew that the surest way to save the citadel is to pratte! the outposts. He believed in the supernatural contents of Scripture, but he believed also in the supernatural structure of Scripture. In this he was rendering a great service to multitudes of faithful ministers who for lack of adequate learning were themselves unable to vindicate their faith in the Word of God. His fearless belief was a buttress to men as he stood foresquare to every wind that blows in his unshaken confidence in the oracles of God.

Out of this belief there grew Dr. Warfield’s convictions regarding some matters which enter largely into. the theological controversies of our day, these controversies having particular reference to the supremacy of Scripture, the right of private judgment, and the autonomy of the conscience. Let us give a moment’s attention to these three topics.

1. There is, to begin with, the supremacy of Scripture. Dr. Warfield was not a theological individualist. The consensus of Christian faith was a strong argument with him in support of any doctrine embodied in that faith. He would have agreed with the words of Vincentius Lerinensis, quod semper, quod Ubiqll-e, qlwd ab omnibus credendum est, not because the Church has the power to define doctrine, but because the agreement of Christians in the interpretation of Scripture is prima facie evidence that the interpretation is correct: SCCUTUS judicat orbis tcrrarum. He believed in the presence of the Spirit with the Church. He believed that over and above the external evidence in support of tnlth the individual Christian may have “the witness in himself,” and that this subjective certitude is often a stronger support o( his faith than any argument that he can make. But when under the plea of “speaking in the present tense” the right of private judgment was assailed by a doctrine which assumed to supplement the Bible or give an authoritative interpretation of it, he rejected the doctrine, whether it was the Roman Catholic doctrine of papal infallibility or the Protestant doctrine of the Christian consciousness.

2. We come next to the right of private judgment. We cannot believe in two contradictory infallibilities. If the infallible Church contradicts the plain meaning of infallible Scripture, one or the other alleged infallibility must give way. Hence the divisions which have rent Christendom. The Eastern and Western Churches divided on the question of “the double procession of the Spirit” represented by the controversy over the fiiioquc clause. Then came the Protestant schism in the sixteenth century, Protestantism dividing into the Lutheran and the Reformed branches of Protestant Christendom. The Refonncd Church divided again at the Synod of Dort into Calvinists and Arminians. Nor is there any logical stopping place short of the re1ig-ious atomism represented by the right of private judgment When, therefore, you wish to define the visible Church, you cannol say that it consists of those who are officered in a particular way or of those who accept a particular confession of faith. You must define it in the terms of the largest charity and with proper respect for the right of private judgment. Keeping these conditions in mind, I think we shall find no better definition than the one given in our own formularies, which says that the visible Church consists of “All those who profess the true religion, together with their children.”

That separation has been carried too far, I do not deny, and reading the signs of the times one would feel disposed to think that the sun of analysis had set and that the sun of synthesis were about to rise. So it comes to pass that the reunion of Protestant Christendom is one of the burning questions of our day. Grant, now, that division has gone too far, how can the process be reversed?

Desirable as the reunion of Protestantism may be, it will be found, I imagine, difficult of accomplishment. Where, as in England, there is a state church, it would not be strange if some of the dissenting bodies were willing to return to the church of their fathers under a broad interpretation of the Episcopate. It remains to be seen whether “the nonconfonnist conscience” will accept the terms of the recent Lambeth Conference, liberal as they are and notwithstanding the fine Christian spirit which dictated them. But the case is different in Scotland, which has no hereditary relations to Protestant Episcopacy; and it is very doubtful whether the non-Episcopal churches-in this country will consent to a union on the basis of an Episcopal polity. \Vhy’ indeed, it will be asked by many, should the union be effected on the basis of the Episcopate? Has the doctrine of lure diviM Episcopacy any better standing than jllre divino Presbyterianism? There are many of us in our own communion who love the Church of England and the Protestant Episcopal Church in this country: we love the. stately ritual, the solemn litany and the collects with the holy light that shines in those gems of devotion. But we prefer the simplicity of the Presbyterian service and the prominence in it o.f the pulpit.

It has been suggested,’ however, that the Protestant churches may keep their separate organizations, modes of worship, and doctrinal standards, and unite under the more comprehensive organization of Episcopacy. What would our condition be, supposing that such a union went into tffed? Let us remember that it could be effected only on the basis of e:l:pediency, and the expediency which dictates union today may call for separation tomorrow. To all intents and purposes we should have put our vested interests, institutions, faith, history, and religious traditions into the hands of a new set of trustees; and when, as sometimes happens in secular affairs, the order is given to restore these tangible and intangible assets to the separate organizationS’, what would our condition be? After a lethargic existence under a larger organization, after a breach of historic continllity, after a relative loss of interest in the smaller company in view of the wider scope of the greater organization, do you sllppose that our chllrch, for example, would come back to its own without considerable loss? By no breach of faith, by no intentional act of proselytising enthusiasm, it would be found nevertheless that during these years of attempted reunion a double process of alienation had meanwhile been going on, the alienation of the assets from the heirs, and the alienation of the heirs from the assets.

I am not insensible of the evil effects of separation. But I see no prospect of agreement. The day of reunion may come, but I incline to think it will not come “except there be a falling away first.” Indeed, one of the worst features of the proposed union is the fact that it is largely prompted by a widespread spirit of religious tmconcern. It is easy to agree when difference has become indifference and great doctrinal headlands are submerged in the troubled sea of social unrest. Much of the current talk of reunion seems to be forgetful of the spiritual values which are likely to be sacrificed for the sake of economic gains, and from a relig. ious point of view it impresses me as a chimerical effort to increase dividends by watering the stock. I dislike the intrusion into. the Church of the methods of commerce, and the talk of consolidation, overhead charges, economy, and efficiency in connection with this controversy. Much also as I delight to think that the hymns of the ancient, mediaeval, and modern Church are the common property of Chris· tendom, I am not yet ready to accept the hymn-book as a basis of reunion; and whether that reunion is presented to us in the husky tones of trade or in the wooing voice of pious feeling, I am disposed to regard the plea as insufficient and comfort myself with the thought that once when our Lord entered the Temple he overthrew alike the tables of the money changers and the seats of them that sold doves.

3. The third great principle which follows from the Protestant doctrine of the rule of faith is the autonomy of the individual conscience. If in regard to those matters which are revealed we assert the right of private judgment in the interpretation of Scripture, then by a very natural inference we may assume the same right in regard to subjects which are not matters of specific revelation. It may, however, be said that it is in precisely such questions that the Christian consciousness has a right to speak authoritatively and to a certain extent supplement the teachings of the Bible. Those, however, who know how this principle has been abused will be slow to accept it, and will find their refusal to accept it abundantly justified by reference to the Scripture itself. Of course one should have good reason for dissenting from the prevailing opinion of the Christian Church, and one may well interrogate his own conscience in respect to the corredness of judgments which are at variance with the voice of Christendom. But nothing can less· en his own responsibility for deciding his own course of action in regard to things indifferent or which become right or wrong according to circumstances. “One man esteemeth one day above another; another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.” You have liberty, says the Apostle, but use it well and see that you use .it in accordance with the great altruistic principle, “Love thy neighbor as thyse1f.” But the doctrine of the Christian consciousness cannot set aside the great truth regarding the autonomy of the conscience. One cannot well believe that the Holy Spirit has inspired His Church or any portion of it to contradict what He had previously inspired His apostles to write. We may think that our neighbor has erred in respect to matters which fall within the jurisdiction of the individual conscience, but even in the act of pointing out what we esteem to be an error we must heed the principle embodied in the Apostle’s words, “Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? To his own master he standeth or falleth.” No one can share with the individual Christian the responsibility of steering his own bark across life’s stonny ocean. Let him avail himself of all the recognized aids to navigation, chart, compass, sextant, and chronometer, but when the critical moment comes it is for him to say whether he will “lay to” or “run before the wind.”

Important, however, as was Dr. Warfield’s attitude toward the subjects of which I have been speaking, his position in regard to the doctrines which constitute the common Christian heritage was even more important. He believed in the old-fashioned doctrine of sin. To criminologists. alienists and students of abnormal psychology he left the task of explaining the conduct of the kleptomaniac and the degenerate. He had no cavil against the claim that such abnormal conduct rests on a physical basis, and he had no objection to the word parancia. But his studies had led him to attach greater importance to the word hamartia. The nonnal abnonnalities of mankind were to him matters of far greater moment than the exceptional behaviour to which Thave referred. He believed in the guilt and power of sin. With the easy philosophy of those who explain conduct in the tenus of social environment he had no sympathy. To those who say, “Change the circumstances of people and their character will improve,” he would in all probability have replied, “Change the character of men and their circumstances will take care of themselves.” Character is an endogenous plant and grows from within. He was well acquainted with the types of current thought that contradict this Augustinian doctrine of sin. He knew the man with a: Pelagian theology and a patrician’s pride who fancies that he can patronise Christianity; who, with a competency in one pocket and a college diploma in another, is satisfied with his environment and raises no question as to his destiny; who, born in the purple of social distinction, is master of good fonn and an adept in the art of idle conversation; born in the lap of luxury gives vent to his better fedings by playing the game of parlour-socialism, and instead of becoming a “socialist of the chair” becomes a socialist of the rockingchair; born the impeccable heir of gentle manners looks upon sin as the special attribute of the lower orders of society; and “born in Boston needs no second birth.” But Dr. Warfield believed in the universal birth-stain of sin, and with. all his vast erudition could find, I venture to say, no better definition of it than that of the Westminster divines given in our Shorter Catechism; “Sin is any want of conformity unto or transgression of the law of God.”

Following the doctrine of sin, as its logical consequence and the specific teaching of Scripture come the doctrines of incarnation, expiation, and regeneration. These doctrines are the common heritage of Christians; they constitute the heart of Christianity, and Dr. Warfield held and taught them in their integrity. He was no ignorant literalist in his acceptance of these doctrines, no “nimble textualist,” easily betrayed by the sound of familiar words into a false interpretation of Scripture. He was a master of the Scripture’s meaning. He had seen how men had dropped the substance of doctrine to grasp its shadow reflected in the stream of idealistic metaphysics. He knew how the Ritschlian theologians gave a “value-judgment” to the man who asked for bread, and how when he complained they put him off wiLi. a tradesman’s trick by saying that what he had was “just as good”; how they “kept the promise to the ear but broke it to the hope”; how they have made a schism between the theology of the intellect al)d the theology of the feelings; how they have sought in vain to show us how we can believe with all our heart what we have rejected with all our head; and more than that he knew how building on this Ritschlian foundation later writers have tried to teach us that God is the creature of our imagination, His name a symbol of our irresistible impulse to think of the Infinite, religion a device for the conservation of values and the expression of it a form of emotional reaction stimulated into greater than ordinary activity by the artistic refinements of symbolism. He knew in fact that it was but a short Sabbath day’s journey from Ritschl to Hoffding. He knew the effect of handling the word of God deceitfully, and this made him cling the more closely to its teachings.

The great truths to which reference is made are of the essence of the religion of the New Testament. But, of course, the wardrobe of Christianity is ample enough to clothe with moral and r.eligious respectability types of thought which fall very far short of the religion embodied in the Pauline and the Petrine writings. There is a theistic Christianity which offers Heaven as a prize for good behaviour. We shall probably soon hear of an atheistic Christianity which reveres the name of Jesus, which sees in Him the ideal man, which gets lessons in philanthropy from his life, which seeks to cure the pathological conditions of society represented by poverty, disease, and ,crime, and looks for a sociological millenium; but leaves us to go down the dark valley of death with no lamp to our feet and no light to our path. Dr. Warfield’s Christianity, however, was something very different from these. He held the doctrines already referred to which constitute the common faith of the Christian world, and besides these he held the doctrine of justification by faith, the reaffirmation of which by Luther gave birth to the Reformation; and the other doctrines of grace specifically unfolded in the Reformed theology. These truths he considered sub .specie aeterllitatis, regarding them as revelations of the eternal thought of God and their historic unfolding as part of an eternal purpose. The truth of these doctrines cannot be legitimately called in question by any who respect the authority of the New Testament, but the doctrine of an eternal purpose besides being a part of the Pauline theology is the obvious consequence of a theistic theory of the universe. Yet it is this profound conception that the world of experience is the realization in time of God’s eternal thought which has exposed Calvinistic theologians, Dr. Warfield among them, to the charge of narrowness. There is a narrow theology, but it is not among Calvinistic theologians that we are to look for it.

It is narrow to make a metaphor the basis of either faith or practice, whether we find an illustration of it in the primacy of Peter or in a ritualistic genuflet:tion; narrow to make a subordinate truth the basis of denominational separatism, whether it be the doctrine of baptism or the laying on of hands; narrow to suppose that Cruden’s Concordance can take the place of a Body of Divinity; narrow to make the obiter dicta of inspired writers the basis of a dogma; narrow, in matters of behaviour, to pay tithes of mint, anise, and cummin, and neglect the weightier matters of the law; narrow, to accept the ethics of Jesus and reject His theology; narrow to hold to the Gospels and despise the Epistles; narrow to take thought for the life that now is and neglect the one that is to come; narrow to single out specific sins as worthy of special condemnation and forget that all of us haw gone astray and come short of the glory of God; narrow to keep the fine gold of the gospel at home and think that the base metal of alloy is good enough to circulate in India, China, and Japan; narrow to pick our religious guide out of the divided camp of philosophers, whether he be  pantheist, pancosmist, panpsychist, pragmatist, pluralist, or personal idealist-the more narrow, since Dr. Hocking, a late comer in philosophy, has told us with refreshing plain ness .of speech that one man’s metaphysical speculations are just as good as another’s,-the more inexcusably narrow, seeing that “we have a more sure word of prophecy where unto we do wen to take heed.” But Dr. Warfield was not narrow. Say, if )’ou like, that he was the belated champion of a dying theology. This, of course, is not true; but if it were, then so much the worse for the world j for he has de livered the only message which will bring comfort to· a sin sick soul; he has pointed men to the only Physician who can heal the hurt of humanity; he has preached the only gospel which has the promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.


It is to be regretted that Dr. Warfield was not more fre quently heard in our pulpits. His sermons in the chapel of the Seminary were models of the better sort of university preaching. They were the ripe result of religious experience and minute exegetical knowledge, and in their meditative simplicity reminded us of some of the best Puritan divines. There was, however, an audience to which he spoke regu larly, and by the members of it he was listened to with eager interest. He was punctilious in the discharge of his duties as a teacher. Appointments outside of Princeton never af fected the regularity with which he met his classes. Be lated trains gave no escape to students from the obligations of the lecture-room. The manner of his death was in keep ing with the habits of his life. He met his class on the day he died. The lecture over, he returned to his lonely dwell ing: there came a few sharp shocks of pain-and he had ~eft the work that had been his joy, to be with the Saviour whom he loved.

It is not easy to lay down rules respecting the way in which a professor should do his work. We have no normal school-nor do we need one-to teach professors how to teach. If a man is fit for his place you can do no better than leav~ him to b~ his own judg~. The more of a man h~ is and the more right he has to speak with authority, the more independent he is likdy to be. The day has not com~ yet, and Illay it never come, when an “efficiency agent” will feci free to enter one of our class-rooms for the purpose of seeing that a professor is doing his duty. The best men have their faults, and the professor is human. You cannot do better than leave him alone. You may chill his enthusiasm or even break his heart, but you cannot change him. We must recognize the fact that professors differ. Some interest the great body of students, others awaken the admiration of a few. Some give information, others stimulate ambition. There are men whose teaching is as clear as crystal, even though you could hardly mistake it for a stimulant j and there are men whose stream of thought has brought with it much mixture of mud from the high places of its origin. Ther~ are men of microscopic vision and men who deal in large generalizations; men who “settle Hou’s business” and men who unfold the great problems of New Testament Criticism. There-are men whom it is hard to foUow because the hearer is, intellectually speaking, sitting too far away from the IKturer; and men whose effort to bring everything down to the levd of the least informed evokes a sigh of weariness from the better members of the class and provokes the man with bad manners to look at his watch.

I think we shall find few teachers like Dr. Warfield. For securing the best results from all his pupils his method can hardly be improved upon. He used Dr. Hodge’s Theology as a text-book j but the daily “recitation” as we call it, was no parrot-like, primary school exercise. It was a Socratic dialogue in which the professor came down to the student’s level, discussed with him the points under consideration, plied him with questions, challenged his answers, sought out and solved his difficulties, helped him to give sha~ and ex-pression to the thought within him that was struggling for utterance, entered the arena of controversy with him and made him see the weakness of his position. There were interesting debates, I doubt not, in his ledure-room sometimes bet\’;een professor and student which the rest of the class must have enjoyed, when faUacies which had the courage to stand up and fight were made to surrender, and fallacies which skulked under misleading phraseology were tracked to their hiding-place and mercilessly slain.

Sometimes Dr. Warfield lectured, amplifying some of the topics dealt with in the textbook, dealing with some contemporary issue in dogmatic theology, or giving the results of independent study and research in matters of current thought. Besides his regular class work Dr. Warfield had elective classes open to all seminary students and intended specially for graduates of Princeton and other theological seminaries. In these it was customary to take up some special doctrine for discussion during a term, and students were expected to do original work in the writing of theses. These classes, I am told, were very attractive to the students. In this way the department of Systematic Theology has been built up and has attained a position in this Seminary which it never had before and, so far as my knowledge and information go, exists nowhere else.

You may wonder sometimes how much time should be given to Systematic Theology in the curriculum of the Seminary, and may be disposed to think that it already has in this institution rather more than its share. Let me speak freely here. You may tell a student that when he leaves the theological seminary he should keep up his Greek and Hebrew and prosecute a systematic course of study. But you may be sure that very few men will do it. If he has the time to study as we had who graduated fifty-six years ‘ago, the graduate will gratify his literary appetite and consult his own tastes; but he will follow no cut-and-dried plan. If he has a self-directing mind he will not adopt a programme made by somebody else.

But w~ must remember that times have changed in fifty years. The minister of today has his hands full of the activitiesof the Church and other activities besides, and in the inevitable division of labour which has come about we have professors with whom the claims of highly spfcialized learning shut out to a large extent the opportunity for general reading; and pastors whose reading must come in the inter~ vals between crowded hours, and be very general at that. And yet it is theology which must constitute the backbone of a minister’s pulpit-work, and that he may use it in a free, familiar, unconstrained expression of himself it must by some hidden process of metabolism enter into the tissues of his being and become part of his life. It is when he is in the Seminary that this process must go on—–or at least begin. I do not wonder that men find themes of absorbing interest in the topics of the time, in the activities of socia! service, and in humanitarian schemes for the reformation of social life; that they garnish with literary parsley the Sunday meal which they prepare for their congregations, and bring into the pulpit beautiful bouquets which they have gathered from the garden of poesy. The reason is that in many cases they have lost faith in the old gospel of salvation and have parted company with the doctrines of redeeming grace. I am addressing myself more particularly at this moment to young men who are about to enter the ministry, and I wish not to be misunderstood. Art, science, literature, philosophy are yours; an are yours, and ye are Christ’s and Christ is God’s; use them an in the service of the sanctuary. Pour the red wine of the gospfl into a golden chalice of your choicest workmanship. But remember that no amount of intellectual attainment will profit you if conviction dies.

Thinking is hard work, preaching is no easy task. It is when you have wrestled through the night with the angel of the Lord that the blessing will COOle in the clear vision and the goodly pearls of speech. When work of this sort is at its height you will not fast because you ought to fast, you will fast because you cannot eat. You will not pray because you ought to pray, you wi\( pray because you cannot help it; for this kind also goeth not out but by prayer and fasting. Use all the aids to reflection you can command. Live on terms of intellectual fellowship with men in other callings and borrow of their oil to fIll your own lamps. Browse on the uplands like Arnold’s “high pasturing kine” with only now and then the tinkle of a bell to tell those in the vaHey below where you are. Take time for brooding on your theme; and out of your intercourse with men, out of old chapters in your own experience, out of books that you may have not seen for years, illustrations will flock to the open casement of your soul like doves to their windows. And when your message is prepared, go from your study to your pulpit as Savonarola went from his cell to pour a flood of molten speech upon the great audience that waited for him in the Duomo. Go into your pulpit when thought has been fused in the hot fire of emotion, feeling as you will your weakness and unworthiness. Go with a whispered prayer for help upon your lips, and by divine grace when you feel that you are weak you will be strong. Then your message will be an arrow shot from the ttnse bowstring of com,iction, and God himself will direct its flight.


Dr. Warfield was one of three great masters of the Reformed theoloip’ who were not only loyal to its teachings but also active in its defense, the other two being the late Dr. Kuyper and his successor Dr. ‘Herman Bavinck, both of Amsterdam. Dr. Warfield was pre–eminently qualified to do the work to which he devoted his life. He had an exact knowledge of New Testament criticism and exegesis. In his . wide linguistic equipment he had the key to the world’s best theological literature. He was at home in the history of doctrine and had first-hand knowledge of the great masters of dogmatic theology. I cannot better describe him to Princeton men than by saying that he combined in rare degree the widely different attainments of Charles Hodge and Addison AJexander. You may wonder, then, why he did not enrich our theological literature by giving us a systematic theology of his own. There are abundant reasons, however, for his failure to do so. In the first place, he was largely occupied with the business of teaching, which left him but little time for the constructive work of building a system. What the world lost, however, his pupils gained. Had he been contented to write his leetures and read them to his classes, he might have left us an opus tllGK’lUm worthy cf his unusual gifts. But he gave his heart to teaching, and it is not for us to say whether in teaching or in constructive work he would best have served his day and generation.

Besides, he was by temperament a controversial rather than a systematic theologian. His habit of writing elaborate articles for the Princeton Theological Review led him perhaps to put more emphasis on certain phases of religious thought than would be proper in a treatise on systematic theology, and might easily have prevented him from seeing truth in a proper perspective had he essayed the task of writing a theological system. Apart from this reason, however, it is quite safe to say that he was a dogmatic rather than a systematic theologian, and was less Interestedl in the system of doctrine than in the doctrines of the system. It was to the discussion of particular doctrines in connection with the most recent phases of thought that he gave the greater part of his attention. Yet again it must he said that Dr. Warfield had hut little interest in philosophy, and relatively speaking it formed but a small part of his intellectual equipment. But the history of thought shows that theology is inseparably associated with philosophy. Dr. Charles Hodge was well abreast of the philosophical thought of his day, so far as it impinged upon theology, hut it would be a much more serious undertaking for a theologian to attempt to do in our day what Dr. Hodge did in his, so wide is the field of philosophy now and so various are the phases of philosophical opinion. It remains true however that whether it be neo·Platonism or Aristotelianisrn or Hegelianism or Naturalism or the revolt against both of these last-named types of thought which is now going on, philosophy has had and is still having its effect upon theological opinion, and the systematic theologian, if he would meet the full demands of a constructive system, must take cognizance of it. But the strongest reason for Dr. Warfield’s failure to write a system of theology is that being himself a pupil of Dr. Charles Hodge he made his S)’stemali<: TheololD’ the basis of his own teaching. “Forty and six years was this temple in building,” and Dr. Warfield was not the man to tum the key in the door of that temple and leave it to the moles and to the bats.

I do not think that Dr. Warfield cared much how the materials that enter into a theological system are organized. He cared more about the separate blocks of doctrine than the shape of the building constructed out of them. If we care to use a geometrical symbol, a system of theology may take the form of an ellipse, the two foci being the Disease and the Remedy, as was the case in Chalmers’ JIISlilllteS, or “‘Cod objectively and subjeetively revealed, as in the theology of Dr. Breckinridge. Again we may very properly symbolize by the triangle: the main divisions being based on the three Persons of the Trinity, as in Calvin’s Jnslitutio Christia1/(le religionis. Or, yet again, we may have a Christo. centric system of theology, the separate doctrines radiating from the central truth of the Incarnation as was the case in Dr. Henry B. Smith’s system..But Dr. Warfield seems not to have been much interested in the mode of organizing the units that constitute the Body o”f Divinity. Dr. Hodge’s quadrilateral consisting of Theology, Anthropology, Soteri. ology, and Eschatology suited his purpose very well, and he had no desire to modify it. That there is in it a logical fault of division there can be no doubt; but what of it? There is a similar fault in Blackstone’s C/)1/lmenlaries, which lesser men than Blackstone have been careful to indicate.

There is something very attractive to me in the relation of Dr. Warfield to Dr. Hodge’s SysltmlJlU: Theology. The last man in the world to swear in the words of a master, his filial loyalty to Dr. Hodge was something very remarkable. No man of my acquaintance ever held his own opinion with more tenacity than he of whom 1 am speaking. No man sought counsel less in fonning that opinion. There was an aloofness and a detachment about him that might easily have been mistaken for a haughty disregard of what other people think. He was habitually objedive in his thinking and neither made revelations of his own subjectivities nor cared much apparently for the subjectivities of other people. Few and short were his words of praise for other men, and he was silent regarding himself. Wordsworth was not speaking proleptically or in allusion to him, we may be sure, in either the active or passive meaning of the phrase, when he said, “We live by admiration.” But in saying this we must make exception of Dr. Warfield’s attitude to Dr. Hodge, and I think I am right in saying that at no time was his confidence in his own opinion sufficient to keep him from saying with a pupil’s reverence for his teacher, Da mihi magistrutn.

It is now nearly fifty years since I was called to Chicago to be McCormick Professor of Systematic Theology in the Theological Seminary of the Northwest, now very properly known, in view of the liberal benefactions of the late Mr. Cyrus H. McConnick and his family, as the McCormick Theological Seminary. My entrance upon the duties to which I was called synchronized with the appearance of Hodge’s S}’stematic Theo[og}’. For nearly ten years that is to say, up to the time of my coming to Princeton, I used it as a textbook. It is through no cursory examination of it, therefore, that I refer to it today. I assume some risk, perhaps, by reason of inadequate knowledge of other authors when I venture to say that in my opinion Dr. Hodge’s book is the greatest treatise on Systematic Theology in the English language.

I do not forget the great heritage which has come to us from the older Anglican divines such as Bull, Waterland and Horsley, nor our obligations to later men in the Church of England like Liddon and Gore. But these men do not belong to’ the class of systematic theQlogians, great as their contributions to Christian dogmatics have been. The Church of England has done but little work in systematic theQlogy, a fact which Bishop Ellicott noticed with some regret in an essay written about fifty years ago. I do not forget the labours of Alford and Ellicott, of Lightfoot and Westcott, but their work was in the field of New Testament Criticism and Exegesis. I do not forget the massive works of Puritan theologians like John Owen and John Howe, but these men were not systematic theologians. And great as were the Scottish theologians, Chalmers, Cunningham, and Candlish, their distinctive work lies in a different field. I hold in high esteem the New England thinkers like Emmons, Hopkins, Park, and Taylor, and have spe<:ial reverence for the memory of Jonathan Edwards, the greatest of them all; but these men laid the foundations of their systems in a questionable doctrine of what we used to call “the mflral and active powers.” I do not forget the systems of theology written by men in our own communion like Thornwell, Breckinridge, Shedd, and Henry B. Smith; and though more than one of them excel Hodge in some respects, yet, taking them all together, for comprehensiveness and completeness, for freedom from questionable philosophical commitments, and for loyal devotion to the words of Scripture, they do not equal in cathedral-like proportions the work in Systematic Theology which Princeton Seminary has given to the world undel; the name of Charles Hodge.

The day will come when the times will call not for a new theology but for a new systematic theology. New forms of philosophy must be dealt with, new phases of historical controversy must be considered, new witnesses for the truth from archaeology, from science, from history, must be heard. And some one with architectonic gifts must levy contributions from all departments of theology for the new structure. Who that new architect will be we do not know, but I venture the prediction that some of the choicest stones in that new building will be those which have been hewn and shaped in the Warfield quarry.

But let us not regret that he of whom we speak today did not attempt this task. The time is not ripe for that Dr. Warfield did his best service to the Church by doing his work within the precincts of this great cathedral. And how splendid this cathedral is!

Built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ being the chief comer·stone, its walls are sal· vation and its gates are praise. Buttressed on the one side by the truths of reason, the facts of our moral nature, and the great defenses of a theistic view of the world; and on the other side by the monumental defenses of the Bible’s supernatural claims and the historic foundations of our faith, there has been built into its structure the Bible’s teach· ing of “what man is to believe concerning God and what duty God requires of man.” The principles which underlie human society are there, and there are to be found the truths which lend majesty to human law. The keystone of every arch is marked with the symbol which stands for Jesus ~()fninum salvator. The lofty roof invites the upward look, and it rests upon the reasons that support the eternal hope. Its storied windows keep alive the memory of great constructive thinkers-Augustine, Anselm, Calvin. Its mural tablets tell of the victories which have been won upon the battle-fields of faith and speak of Nice, Chalcedon, Augsburg, Dart, and Westminster. From the choir come tbe voices of Christian singers, ancient, mediaeval, and modern, who notwithstanding the divisions in the sacramental host of God’s elect proclaim the truth that “all the servants of our King in Heaven and earth are one.” The odour of incense pervades the building, and the voice of prayer softens the harsh words of controversy. As I stand in mute admiration of this edifice there comes over me the feeling that it is crowded with worshippers. There reaches my ear the voice of one who stands as a representative of a long line of preachers from Chrysostom to Whitefield. I listen while he unfolds the history of redemption from the protevangelium in Genesis to the song of the redeemed in the Apocalypse, tells us of great crises in the Church when men’s hearts failed them for fear, speaks of the assaults upon our faith that make us anxious now-of the indifference of some, the apostasy of others-warns us that in coming days we may expect the hearts of many to grow cold, but bids us take cOlolrage in the thought that the triumph of the Church is provided for in the eternal purpose of God and in the promise of our blessed Lord that the gates of hell shall not prevail against her.

And now the deep-voiced organ begins to speak. In successive waves and with increasing volume the flow of harmony goes down the nave, across the transepts, past the columns, through the arches, up to the vaulted roof, and reaches its climax in an outburst of triumphant joy when the great assembly, moved by some sudden inspiration, rises to its feet, translates this wordless anthem into speech, and sings with loud acclaim, Alleluia, the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth!

“Carberry Hill,”
Warwick, Bermuda.

Francis L. Patton.

Patton. Francis L. “Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield, D.D., LL.D., Litt.D.: A Memorial Address.” Princeton Theological Review 19:3 (July 1921): 369–91. [PrincetonPDF]

  1. Given in the First Presbyterian Church, Princeton, May 2d, 1921, by invitation of the Faculty of the Theological Seminary. []
No comments yet.

Leave a Reply