B. B. Warfield – Not a Solitary Theologian

Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield (1851-1921)

By Simonetta Carr - Posted at Place for Truth:

Due to a need for brevity, many articles on Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield (1851-1921) focus on his theology and his devotion to his wife, whose illness kept the couple close to home. Because of this, he is often seen as a solitary man leading an uneventful life. This view is compounded by the fact that we have a very limited access to his letters (the scholar who holds his correspondence is currently working on a long-due biography).

In reality, while it’s true that Warfield spent much time at home and in his study, he was deeply invested in the lives of those around him: students, family, and friends.

Young Warfield

Warfield grew up in a farm near Lexington, Kentucky, learning about his father’s work as cattle raiser, collecting butterflies, moths, and rocks, memorizing the Westminster Catechisms (with Scriptural proofs), complaining about having to study Greek, reading books, and dreaming to become a scientist.

At 17 years of age, he began his studies at the College of New Jersey (later known as Princeton University), where he was generally a good student. Like other boys his age, he got into his share of mischief, most famously a fist fight with another student who was offended by an unflattering picture Warfield drew of him during a lecture. This incident, without serious consequences, earned him the nickname of “pugilist.”

In a 1871 article in the Princeton Alumni Weekly, Warfield described some his experiences at Princeton: his regular visits to the college’s former president John Maclean (with plenty of tea, coriander-seed cookies, and wise advice), the long walks (in rubber boots) through the marshes leading to the college, the social clubs, the uncommercialized sports, the unruly congregation of students at the post-office, and the roasting jokes (then called “rakes”) about the faculty.

Soon after graduating the same year, Warfield traveled to Europe for further studies at the universities of Edinburgh and Heidelberg – where he acted as referee for the Heidelberg Dueling Corps’ sword fights. He also visited other places, included London, enjoying the city’s operas and theatre plays.

In the meantime, he reflected about his future. Eventually, he made an unexpected decision: he wanted to become a minister of the gospel. His mother must have taken it as an answer to prayer, because she had always hoped that at least one of her two sons would enter the ministry.

In 1873, Warfield entered Princeton Theological Seminary, studying under Charles Hodge and his son Caspar Wistar Hodge. Two years later, he was licensed to preach. A sermon he gave on Romans 3:4 in Dayton, Ohio, left such an impression on his hearers (including a local reporter, who reprinted it) that he was extended a call to pastor the church. He declined for health reasons, and traveled back to Europe to study at the University of Leipzig.

Before leaving, he married a young lady he had known for some time: Annie Pearce Kinkaid, daughter of a prominent attorney. They planned to combine the study trip with their honeymoon, but things took a turn for the worse when Annie was nearly struck by lightning during a walk in the Harz Mountains of Germany. Somehow, this incident affected her nervous system and overall health.


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