B. B. Warfield and the Second Beatitude

warfieldNinety-three years ago today, Benjamin Breckenridge Warfield, a native of Kentucky and a world-renowned theologian went to be with the Lord. His death came six years after his wife’s, a woman who had spent years bedridden in their home in Princeton, New Jersey.

Nearly fifty years earlier (1876), Warfield had married Annie Pearce Kinkade. She was the descendent of Revolutionary War hero, George Rogers Clark. And when they wed, they were ready for a lifetime of happiness together. Presumably Warfield would teach; Annie would tend to the home and raise children.  I say presumably, because such were not the circumstances God gave them.

Shortly into their marriage (the actual dating of the event is disputed) they were caught in a thunderstorm as they climbed a mountain in Europe. Freakishly, Annie was struck by lightening. Her nervous system collapsed. And she never recovered.

Upon their return home, Annie was constrained to their small home adjacent to the seminary where “Benny” worked. Until her death, Annie would rarely leave this lodging. And consequently, for the rest of his life, Warfield turned down countless speaking opportunities, leadership mantles, and ceremonies honoring his work in order to care for her.

To meet her needs, this theological giant was never more than a few minutes from her. As a result of her condition, they never had children. And while he carried on an active teaching ministry at Princeton, he returned to her side every few hours.

Blessed Are Those Who Mourn

Like so many Christians, Warfield was acquainted with grief. Although, he was heralded as a great Christian thinker, his marriage restrained him from doing more. And yet, it was this very affliction that produced in Warfield a kind of character that far exceeded his learning.

Consider this appraisal by F. T. McGill, a close friend of Warfield’s, as he wrote John Meeter:

If Dr Warfield was great in intellectuality, he was just as great in goodness. Over a long period of years this man stands out in my mind as the most Christ-like man that I have ever known. In spite of his brilliance of mind, there was no spirit of superciliousness, no purpose to offend the dullest pupil, no haughtiness of heart. With him there was never any sign of pretense, or false front; for there was no spirit of hypocrisy in his inner heart. Rather there was always the spirit of humility and meekness and the spirit of kindness and gentleness toward others. (Zaspel, The Theology of B. B. Warfield, 32-33)

To say it simply, Warfield was a true disciple, one whose character had been refined in the furnace of affliction.  For him, affliction was a conduit of grace; mourning was a blessing.

Divine Comfort Creates Human Compassion

To speak comparatively, Warfield had studied the Bible more ardently than anyone in his generation. But his gentleness and love did not come from study alone. God had afflicted Warfield and his wife, so that he could comfort them (cf. Hos 6:1-2). As the father of all comforts, he did comfort them; and by his divine comfort, God created in Warfield a humble and compassionate heart.

Indeed, Warfield models for all Christians what Christian humility and compassion ought to look like. His life calls all of us to endure well the tribulations of life, that our hearts might mourn the tragedies of this world and long for the comfort of the next!

In truth, B.B. Warfield embodied the second Beatitude. And I pray that on the anniversary of his death, your life will too.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted!

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

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Most of the biographic information in this post stems from Russ Pulliam’s “Servant and Scholar” from TableTalk (April 2005) and Fred Zaspel’s short introduction in his book The Theology of B. B. Warfield (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), pp. 27-35. If Warfield’s life intrigues you, take time to read those two works.

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