Western Theological Seminary

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WarfieldBB_1903It was on this day, April 20th, in 1880 that the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield, at the age of twenty-nine, was inaugurated as Professor of New Testament Exegesis and Literature at the Western Theological Seminary, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We take as the text of our post today the introductory part of Warfield’s inaugural lecture. A link follows at the close of this section for those who would like to read the whole of the lecture.

First, Barry Waugh provides us with a fitting introduction, setting the stage for our post today:

“In September of 1878, Benjamin began his career as a theological educator when he became an instructor in New Testament Literature and Exegesis at Western Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh. Western Seminary had been formed by the merger of existing seminaries including Danville Seminary, which R. J. Breckinridge, Benjamin’s grandfather, had been involved in founding. The following year he was made professor of the same subject and he continued in that position until 1887. In his inaugural address for Professor of New Testament Exegesis and Literature, April 20, 1880, he set the theme for many of his writing efforts in the succeeding years by defending historic Christianity. The purpose of his lecture was to answer the question, “Is the Church Doctrine of the Plenary Inspiration of the New Testament Endangered by the Assured Results of Modern Biblical Criticism.” Professor Warfield affirmed the inspiration, authority and reliability of God’s Word in opposition to the critics of his era. He quickly established his academic reputation for thoroughness and defense of the Bible. Many heard of his academic acumen and his scholarship was awarded by eastern academia when his alma mater, the College of New Jersey, awarded him an honorary D. D. in 1880.”

 

INAUGURAL ADDRESS

BY

PROF. BENJAMIN B. WARFIELD.

Fathers and Brothers:

It is without doubt a very wise provision by which, in institutions such as this, an inaugural address is made a part of the ceremony of induction into the professorship. Only by the adoption of some such method could it be possible for you as the guardians of this institution, responsible for the principles here inculcated, to give to each newly-called teacher an opportunity to publicly declare the sense in which he accepts your faith and signs your standards. Eminently desirable at all times, this seems particularly so now, when a certain looseness of belief (inevitable parent of looseness of practice) seems to have invaded portions of the Church of Christ,—not leaving even its ministry unaffected;—when there may be some reason to fear that “enlightened clerical gentlemen may sometimes fail to look upon subscription to creeds as our covenanting forefathers looked upon the act of putting their names to theological documents, and as mercantile gentlemen still look upon the endorsement of bills.”* [*Peter Bayne in The Puritan Revolution.] And how much more forcibly can all this be pled when he who appears before you at your call, is young, untried, and unknown. I wish, therefore, to declare that I sign these standards not as a necessary form which must be submitted to, but gladly and willingly as the expression of a personal and cherished conviction; and, further, that the system taught in these symbols is the system which will be drawn out of the Scriptures in the prosecution of the teaching to which you have called me,—not, indeed, because commencing with that system the Scriptures can be made to teach it, but because commencing with the Scriptures I cannot make them teach anything else.

This much of personal statement I have felt it due both to you and myself to make at the outset; but having done with it, I feel free to turn from all personal concerns.

In casting about for a subject on which I might address you, I have thought I could not do better than to take up one of our precious old doctrines, much attacked of late, and ask the simple question : What seems the result of the attack? The doctrine I have chosen, is that of “Verbal Inspiration.” But for obvious reasons I have been forced to narrow the discussion to a consideration of the inspiration of the New Testament only; and that solely as assaulted in the name of criticism. I wish to ask your attention, then, to a brief attempt to aupply an answer to the question :

IS THE CHURCH DOCTRINE OF THE PLENARY INSPIRAITON OF THE NEW TESTAMENT ENDANGERED BY THE ASSURED RESULTS OF MODERN BIBLICAL CRITICISM?

At the very out-set, that our inquiry may not be a mere beating of the air, we must briefly, indeed, but clearly, state what we mean by the Church Doctrine. For, unhappily, there are almost as many theories of inspiration held by individuals as there are possible states imaginable between the slightest and the greatests influence God could exercise on man. It is with the traditional doctrine of the Reformed Churches, however, that we are concerned; and that we understand to be simply this :—Inspiration is that extraordinary supernatural influence (or, passively, the result of it,) exerted by the Holy Ghost on the writers of the Sacred Books, by which their words were rendered also the words of God, and, therefore, perfectly infallible. In this definition, it is to be noted: 1st, That this influence is a supernatural one—something different from the inspiration of the poet or man of genius. Luke’s accuracy is not left by it with only the safeguards which “the diligent and accurate Suetonius” had. 2d. That it is an extraordinary influence—something different from the ordinary action of the Spirit in the conversion and sanctifying guidance of believers. Paul had some more prevalent safeguard against false-teaching than Luther or even the saintly Rutherford. 3d. That it is such an influence as makes the words written under its guidance, the words of God; by which is meant to be affirmed an absolute infallibility (as alone fitted to divine words), admitting no degrees whatever—extending to the very word, and to all the words. So that every part of Holy Writ is thus held alike infallibly true in all its statements, of whatever kind.

Fencing around and explaining this definition, it is to be remarked further:

1st. That it purposely declares nothing as to the mode of inspiration. The Reformed Churches admit that this is inscrutable. They content themselves with defining carefully and holding fast the effects of the divine influence, leaving the mode of divine action by which it is brought about draped in mystery.

2d. It is purposely so framed as to distinguish it from revelation;—seeing that it has to do with the communication of truth not its acquirement.

3d. It is by no means to be imagined that it is meant to proclaim a mechanical theory of inspiration. The Reformed Churches have never held such a theory* [*See Dr. C. Hodge’s Systematic Theology, pFW `57, volume I]; though dishonest, careless, ignorant or over-eager controverters of its doctrine have often brought the charge. Even those special theologians in whose teeth such an accusation has been oftenest thrown (e.g., Gaussen) are explicit in teaching that the human element is never absent. The Reformed Churches hold, indeed, that every word of the Scriptures, without exception, is the word of God; but, alongside of that, they hold equally explicitly that every word is the word of man. And, therefore, though strong and uncompromising in resisting the attribution to the Scriptures of any failure in absolute truth and infallibility, they are before all others in seeking, and finding, and gazing on in loving rapture, the marks of the fervid impetuosity of a Paul—the tender saintliness of a John—the practical genius of a James, in the writings which through them the Holy Ghost has given for our guidance. Though strong and uncompromising in resisting all efforts to separate the human and divine, they distance all competitors in giving honor alike to both by proclaiming in one breath that all is divine and all is human. As Gaussen so well expresses it, “We all hold that every verse, without exception, is from men, and every verse, without exception, is from God;” “every word of the Bible is as really from man as it is from God.”

4th. Nor is this a mysterious doctrine—except, indeed, in the sense in which everything supernatural is mysterious. We are not dealing in puzzles, but in the plainest factcs of spiritual experience. How close, indeed, is the analogy here with all that we know of the Spirit’s action in other spheres! Just as the first act of loving faith by which the regenerated soul flows out of itself to its Saviour, is at once the consciously-chosen act of that soul and the direct work of the Holy Ghost; so, every word indited under the analogous influence of inspiration was at one and the same time the consciously self-chosen word of the writer and the divinely-inspired word of the Spirit. I cannot help thinking that it is through failure to note and assimilate this fact, that the doctrine of verbal inspiration is so summarily set aside and so unthinkingly inveighed against by divines otherwise cautious and reverent. Once grasp this idea, and how impossible is it to separate in any measure the human and divine. It is all human—every word, and all divine. The human characteristics are to be noted and exhibited; the divine perfection and infallibility, no less.

This, then, is what we understand by the church doctrine:—a doctrine which claims that by a special, supernatural, extraordinary influence of the Holy Ghost, the sacred writers have been guided in their writing in such a way, as while their humanity was not superseded, it was yet so dominated that their words became at the same time the words of God, and thus, in every case and all alike, absolutely infallible.

 

— We will close there before Professor Warfield begins to get into the heart of his discourse. If you would like to read the whole of his inaugural discourse, click here.

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wilsonrw04A Noble Example

Robert Dick Wilson was the fifth professor, and last apparently, who first served at Western Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh and then went on to a career at the Princeton Theological Seminary. The fourth such professor was Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield.

Dr. Wilson had received his A.B. and his M.A. from Princeton University and his Th.B. from Western Theological Seminary. Then he had studied for two years at the University of Berlin prior to receiving his Ph.D. from Princeton University, whereupon he took up his teaching position at Western Theological Seminary, first as an instructor, 1883-1885, and then as a professor, 1885-1900.

While teaching at Western, Dr. Wilson gathered a group of students about him and breathed into them, even the least promising, the spirit of research and adventure in the study of the Word of God. Undoubtedly he carried this same enthusiasm and pedagogy with him when he left for Princeton in 1900. It was said of Dr. Wilson, that “he seemed to fit into Princeton as an old glove fits the hand.”

Born in Indiana, Pennsylvania on February 4, 1856, Robert Dick Wilson was the son of a wealthy merchant. Like his brother, he was a voracious reader, and his parents encouraged their children in their studies. Well before graduating from college, Robert was adept in reading nine languages and already had his Latin, Greek and Hebrew well in hand. Over the course of his life, he would come to master several dozen languages, focusing primarily on ancient near-eastern tongues. Wilson’s linguistic talents were judged comparable to those of an earlier Princeton professor, J. Addison Alexander, and in his own day, Wilson was judged by many as the world’s greatest Old Testament scholar.

He devoted all of this vast learning to the defence of Holy Scripture. He believed with all his mind and heart that the Bible is true, and he supported his belief with a wealth of scientific material which even his opponents could not neglect. Only a short time before his death he
was engaged in an answer to a notable mono­graph, published at Oxford, which had recently devoted itself to a consideration of his views.

He was greatly beloved as a teacher and as a friend. With the simplicity of a true scholar, he was always ready to cast reserve aside and receive
his students into his heart. He called them his “boys”, and they responded with affection as well as with respect.

But great as were Dr. Wilson’s achievements throughout a long and fruitful life, his greatest achievement was his last. It was the achievement
by which, putting selfish considerations and unworthy compromise of principle aside, he left his home at Princeton and entered the Faculty
of a new institution devoted unreservedly to the Word of God. It is arguable that no one man sacrificed more in establishing the new school.

Many arguments might have been adduced to lead Dr. Wilson to remain at Princeton Seminary after the reorganization of that institution in 1929. He was at that time in his seventy-fourth year. An honorable and advantageous retirement awaited him whenever he desired. He had a good salary and a comfortable home. He had the friends that he had made at Princeton during a residence there of nearly thirty years. Might he not retain these advantages without being un­faithful to the cause to which he had devoted his life? Would not the new Board of Princeton Seminary keep in the background, for a time at least, the real character of the revolution that had been wrought? Would not the doctrinal change be gradual only, as at so many other institutions, formerly evangelical, which have conformed to the drift of the times? Could he not, meanwhile, serve God by teaching the truth in his own class-room, no matter what the rest of the institution did? Could he not round out his life in peace? Could he not leave to younger men the battle for the Faith?

Those considerations and many like them were no doubt presented to Dr. Wilson in very per­suasive form. But he would have none of them. His Christian conscience, trained by a lifetime of devotion to God’s Word, cut through such argu­ments with the keenness of a Damascus blade. He penetrated to the real essence of the question. He saw that for him to remain at Princeton would be to commend as trustworthy what he knew to be untrustworthy, that it would be to lead Christ’s little ones astray. He knew that a man cannot have God’s richest blessing, even in teaching the truth, when the opportunity to teach the truth is gained by compromise of prin­ciple. He saw clearly that it was not a time for him to think of his own ease or comfort, but to bear testimony to the Saviour who had bought him with His own precious blood.

He did bear that testimony. He left his home at Princeton, and all the emoluments and honors that awaited him there. He cast in his lot with a new institution that had not a dollar of endow­ment and was dependent for the support of its professors upon nothing but faith in God.

wilsonRD_grave_closeupDr. Wilson was supremely happy in that decision. He never regretted it for a moment. He entered joyfully into the life of the new seminary, and God richly blessed him there. Then, having rounded out more than the allotted period of three-score years and ten, a Christian soldier without tarnish of compromise upon his shield, he entered into the joy of his Lord. He died early in October of 1930, at the beginning of Westminster’s second academic year.

Words to Live By:
The gospel cannot well be preached unless there be a school of the prophets to train men to preach it in all its purity and all its power. And these schools must be found consistently faithful to the Lord if they are to properly fulfill their role. Pray for these schools. Pray for the men who are being raised up to proclaim the precious Gospel of saving grace in Christ Jesus alone. Pray that they would be courageous, sparing no effort in giving all their time and talents in serving the Lord. Pray for those who teach, for those who administer, and for those who serve. Pray that together all their efforts would serve to expand the kingdom of our Lord and Savior throughout all the earth.

[A large portion of the above is taken from “The Power of a Noble Example,” a tribute published by Westminster Theological Seminary upon the death of Dr. Robert Dick Wilson. To view that document and other tributes to Dr. Wilson, click here.]

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