To systematize and defend the mode of revealed truth, BB Warfield identified that not only were critical scholars presenting a formidable threat, but itinerant trans-Atlantic preachers with revivalism agendas inherited from Charles Finney in the USA and John Wesley in the UK, were exceeding the bounds of credulity in their accountability only to public appeal. That both Finney and Wesley had checkered pasts as clergy and had rejected the Westminster standards served further to raise suspicion of their elitist claims of unusual gifting - which also further necessitated their compromising the authority of the Bible.
Answering the resulting challenges of the virulent 'revivalism' of the Second Great Awakening, and holding off the mechanized industry of the printing press, which emerged as an ally designed to enthrone the ideals of dominant Western cultures armed with an atheistic worldview, would be a call to one of the greatest men of the faith in one of the darkest periods of the church's existence. BB Warfield was the man borne for the hour among the tempests of the regaling, boasts and claims of modern pretenders, as the controversy of the Bible's authority reached American shores by the 1880s. The liberal minds of Hegel, Kant, Ritschl, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Schleiermacher and a host of other influential avant-garde churchmen were met head-on from old Princeton by the consistently truthful interpretation of God's inspired and infallible Word. A third source of conflict closer to home was in the person of Charles Augustus Briggs of Union Theological Seminary, whose mild disagreements with Warfield escalated into a full blown controversy, eventually to end some 20 years later in the heresy trial of Briggs. Even though Warfield successfully denied Brigg's liberal theology entry into the greater Presbyterian church, today Brigg's contentions are again aired without remand - a telling indicator of our resigned acceptance of anti-supernatural postulations.
'And there is no ground for imagining that God is unable to frame His own message in the language of the organs of His revelations without its thereby ceasing to be, because expressed in a fashion natural to these organs, therefore purely His message.' p 93
The Chicago Statement of Inerrancy 1978 is a modern reaffirmation of the old Princeton analysis as set out by BB Warfield. The act of inspiration was not by dictation, taught Warfield, but by men used by the Holy Spirit 'in accordance with their natures' p 93, thereby doing no violence to their natures. Allocation to the Person of the Holy Spirit created doubt as to the exact role of the instrumentality of the human authors, but Warfield would consistently clarify his assertion by means of what he would call the 'concursive' operation of both the Holy Spirit and the human authors - constituting plenary verbal inspiration, including defining Scripture as 'God-expiration'.
'By this breath of life it must live.' WGT Shedd, Homiletics & Pastoral Theology p 27
'We seem safe only in inferring this much: that the gift of Scripture through its human authors took place by a process much more intimate than can be expressed by the term 'dictation', and that it took place in a process in which the control of the Holy Spirit was too complete and pervasive to permit the human qualities of the secondary authors in any way to condition the purity of the product as the Word of God.' p 153
'We have no Christ except the one whom the apostles have given to us. Jesus Himself left no treatises on doctrine. He left no written dialogues. We are dependent on the apostles for our whole knowledge of Him, and of what He taught. This Christ is committed to the trustworthiness of the apostles as teachers. Thus He makes Himself an accomplice before the fact in all they taught. He has forever bound His trustworthiness with the indissoluble bands to the trustworthiness of His accredited agents in founding His church, and especially by that great promise recorded for us in John 16:12-15.' pp. 187-188
Casper Wistar Hodge later explained: 'He identifies His teaching and the teaching of the Spirit as parts of one whole. If Christ has referred us to the apostles as teachers of the truths which He would have us know, certainly this primary truth of the authority of the Scriptures themselves can be no exception.' quoted on p 189
BBW took care in defending what he thought the implications of inspiration were: 'Over and against the numberless discordant theories of inspiration which vex our time, there stands a well-defined church-doctrine of inspiration. This church-doctrine of inspiration differs from the theories that would fain supplant it, in that it is not the invention nor the property of an individual, but the settled faith of the universal church of God.' p 106 He saw inspiration as originating with God and mediated through men, 'God speaks to us now, in Scripture, not only mediately through his representatives, but directly through the Scriptures themselves as His inspired word.' The efficacy of the Word to save Warfield saw as its inherent divine purpose, 'It is itself a redemptive act of God and by no means the least important in the series of redemptive acts.' p 81 And he entirely believed inspiration as revelation to be final: 'And when this fact was in all meaning made the possession of men, revelation was completed and in that sense ceased.' p 96
The Lion of Princeton has not escaped the attention of numerous modern critics, yet no greater vigilant of Scripture in the modern age is to be found. BB Warfield waged battle with his prodigious pen for the good of all Christians on the terms and conditions prescribed to him by the history and precedent of the orthodox church, and especially the framers of The Westminster Confession of Faith are frequently referenced in his work.