Warfield on the Essence of Christianity

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I gave a lecture yesterday on the life and theology of B B Warfield, focusing on his engagement with German liberalism as expressed in a number of his book reviews.  His book reviews are, I suspect, the most neglected part of his published works but actually contain some of his most astute theological observations.

In the Q and A afterwards, somebody asked if the first paragraph of his first article on 'Miserable Sinner Christianity' was the most brilliant thing which he ever wrote.   As usual in such situations, I could not remember the piece, something made only slightly less embarrassing by the fact that Darryl Hart, student of all things old Princeton, was unable to help me.  Darryl had followed my lecture with a briliant and provocative analysis of how Princeton Seminary had been crushed by the denomination's drive to be a cultural mover-and-shaker and thus to downplay confessional distinctives for, as we would say today, a place at the table or a voice in the conversation.  If it is to be published, it will be a must-read for those enamoured of a confessional evangelicalism which, despite the name, actually does not reflect the priorities, distinctives and ecclesiologies  that originally drove the production of confessions in the first place.

After the lecture, I ferreted out the paragraph and here it is.  Whether it is the most brilliant thing Warfield ever wrote is not for me to judge; but it is undeniably a brilliant and sobering statement of what Christianity is:

It belongs to the very essence of the type of Christianity propagated by the Reformation that the believer should feel himself continuously unworthy of the grace by which he lives. At the center of this type of Christianity lies the contrast of sin and grace; and about this center everything else revolves. This is in large part the meaning of the emphasis put in this type of Christianity on justification by faith. It is its conviction that there is nothing in us or done by us, at any stage of our earthly development, because of which we are acceptable to God. We must always be accepted for Christ's sake, or we cannot ever be accepted at all. This is not true of us only "when we believe." It is just as true after we have believed. It will continue to be true as long as we live. Our need of Christ does not cease with our believing; nor does the nature of our relation to Him or to God through Him ever alter, no matter what our attainments in Christian graces or our achievements in Christian behavior may be. It is always on His "blood and righteousness" alone that we can rest. There is never anything that we are or have or do that can take His place, or that can take a place along with Him. We are always unworthy, and all that we have or do of good is always of pure grace. Though blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ, we are still in ourselves just "miserable sinners": "miserable sinners" saved by grace to be sure, but "miserable sinners" still, deserving in ourselves nothing but everlasting wrath. That is the attitude which the Reformers took, and that is the attitude which the Protestant world has learned from the Reformers to take, toward the relation of believers to Christ.
Posted March 16, 2012 @ 9:31 AM by Carl Trueman
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