Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield (1851-1921) was professor of theology at Princeton Theological Seminary from 1887-1921. Warfield is considered the last of the great Princeton theologians before the split in 1929 that formed Westminster Seminary under the leadership of J. Gresham Machen.
I am reviewing a message he delivered to pastoral students at the Autumn Conference of Princeton Theological Seminary on October 4, 1911.
Warfield began his sermon: “A minister must be both learned and religious (by religious Warfield meant godly). It is not a matter of choosing between the two. He must study, but he must study as in the presence of God and not in a secular spirit. He must recognize the privilege of pursuing his studies in the environment where God and salvation from sin are the air he breathes.” Oh that all of our students of the Word, whether students in preparation or pastors who are still students, had this appreciation.
The theological student is training to be “apt to teach.” This requires learning. But this is only one on a long list of requirements. He must also be godly.
There should be no antithesis between being able to teach and being godly. Warfield quotes someone who said, “Ten minutes on your knees will give you a truer, deeper, more operative knowledge of God than ten hours over your books. What! is the appropriate response? Why should you turn from God when you turn to your books, or feel that you must turn from your books in order to turn to God?”
May God help us to emulate Moses before the burning bush. When we are before our theology book opened to the Trinity, by the way it was Christ as the Angel of the Lord in the burning bush, we should feel like taking off our shoes for we are on holy ground adoring our majestic God.
The theological student will study if he is truly religious. But it is possible to study theology in “an entirely secular spirit.” If he does he is “irreligious or unreligious.” The study of theology unlike any other discipline brings us into the very presence of God and is a “religious exercise.”
Warfield warns theological students of the danger of constant contact with divine things. They can become like the Old Testament priests who handled and moved the Tabernacle furniture, around which God manifested His glory, as just earthly materials. If our study of theology has become commonplace then we have become “weary of God.”
The Word of God is not a worker’s manual with which we are skilled technicians. Paul called what he preached “the Word of His grace which is able to build you up” (Acts 20:32). The Word is a means of God ministering His all sufficient grace.
If our theological studies is not causing us to grow in holiness then we are hardening. Our study of theology should be a “religious exercise out of which you draw every day enlargement of heart, elevation of spirit, and adorning delight in your Maker and your Savior.”
The study of theology alone, however, is not sufficient for the theological student. He must attend public worship “which cannot be neglected without the gravest damage to your religious life.” We must go from our private places of nourishment and bring our devotion to God to His public worship with our community.
“The apostolic writer couples together the exhortations to ‘hold fast the confession of our hope, that it waver not,’ and to forsake not ‘the assembling of ourselves together (Hebrews 10:23-25).’”
Warfield believed that theological students should come together each morning and evening for prayer and twice on Sundays for formal worship to maintain their “religious quickening and growth.” To the student who complains about these too numerous meeting, Warfield would say you, “betray the low ebb of your own religious vitality.”
For the theological student “who thinks the preaching at the regular services on Sunday morning dull and uninteresting” Warfield advised: “The preaching you find dull will no more seem dull to you if you faithfully obey the Master’s precept: ‘Take heed what you hear.’ If there is no fire in the pulpit it falls to you to kindle it in the pews. No man can fail to meet with God in the sanctuary if he takes God there with him.”
Warfield gave one more twist to the implanted dagger in those who complain about their preacher: “Men who are hungry for the truth and get it ought not to be exigent as to the platter in which it is served to them. And they will not be.”
Warfield reminds us that Jesus regularly met to worship with God’s people “as his custom was” (Luke 4:16). “We cannot afford to be wiser than our Lord in this matter….He was found in the place of worship, side by side with God’s people, not for the mere sake of setting a good example, but for deeper reasons.”
These religious exercises are necessary for student preachers if they would be as Cotton Mather subtitled a book for ministerial students: “The angels preparing to sound the trumpets.” Warfield concluded his sermon: “That is what Cotton Mather calls you, students for the ministry: the angels, preparing to sound the trumpets! Take the name to yourselves, and live up to it. Give your days and nights to living up to it! And then, perhaps, whey you come to sound the trumpets the note will be pure and clear and strong, and perchance may pierce even to the grave and wake the dead.”
If you are a student preparing for the pastorate or a pastor who takes his call seriously, Warfield summons us to not separate our study of God’s Word from our worship of God. When we leave our study to fill the pulpit may we like Moses descend with the evident glory of God on our exposition.
Part 2 will be entitled “There are many Marthas, but where are the Marys?”