Words of advice on study and prayer (and vocation) from Benjamin Warfield to theological students…and everyone else

When I was in Bible college I acquired (and read) a little booklet by Benjamin B. Warfield titled The Religious Life of Theological Students, originally delivered as an address at Princeton Theological Seminary on October 4, 1911.  In the opening pages Warfield is dealing with the qualifications of Christian ministers.  I was going to pull an excerpt out of these two paragraphs, but on second thought I’ll reproduce them (nearly) in full.  Close to the heart of his words, I think, is the supposed incompatibility of study (including the Bible) and prayer.  Here is what he had to say (all bold emphasis is mine):

I am asked to speak you you on the religious life of the student of theology.  I approach the subject with some trepidation.  I think it the most important subject which can engage our thought.  You will not suspect me, in saying this, to be depreciating the importance of the intellectual preparation of the student for ministry.  The importance of the intellectual preparation of the student for the ministry is the reason of the existence of our Theological Seminaries.  Say what you will, do what you will, the ministry is a “learned profession”; and the man without learning, no matter with what other gifts he may be endowed, is unfit for his duties.  But learning, though indispensable, is not the most indispensable thing for a minister.  “Apt to teach” — yes, the minister must be “apt to teach”; and observe that what I say — or rather what Paul says — is “apt to teach.”  Not apt merely to exhort, to beseech, to appeal, to entreat; not even merely, to testify, to bear witness; but to teach.  And teaching implies knowledge: he who teaches must know.  Paul, in other words, requires of you, as we are perhaps learning not very felicitously to phrase it, “instructional,” not merely “inspirational,” service.  But aptness to teach alone does not make a minister; nor is it his primary qualification.  It is only one of a long list of requirements which Paul lays down as necessary to meet in him who aspires to this high office.  And all the rest concern, not his intellectual, but his spiritual fitness.  A minister must be learned, on pain of being utterly incompetent for his work.  But before and above being learned, a minister must be godly.

Nothing could be more fatal, however, than to set these two things over against one another.  Recruiting officers do not dispute whether it is better for soldiers to have a right leg or a left leg: soldiers should have both legs.  Sometimes we hear it said that 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, “than ten hours over your books, on your knees?” 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?  If learning and devotion are as antagonistic as that, then the intellectual life is in itself accursed, and there can be no question of a religious life for a student, even of theology. . . .In your case there can be not “either — or” here — either a student or a man of God.  You must be both.

He then goes on to connect this with the doctrine of vocation (work, calling), and while it’s not directly related to the point of this blog post, it does relate to some earlier posts on this blog, so I’ll include these next paragraphs for anyone interested in the subject of “work.”  What he has to say about “work” applies to everybody, not just “theological students”:

Perhaps the intimacy of the relation between the work of a theological student and his religious life will nevertheless bear some emphasizing.  Of course you do not think religion and study incompatible.  But it barely possible that there may be some among you who think of them too much apart — who are inclined to set their studies off to one side, and their religious life off to the other side, and to fancy that what is given to the one is taken from the other.  No mistake could be more gross [huge].  Religion does not take a man away from his work; it sends him to his work with an added quality of devotion. We sing — do we not? —

Teach me, my God and King,
In all things Thee to see —
And what I do in anything,
To do it as for Thee.
If done t’ obey Thy laws,
E’en servile labors shine:
Hallowed is toil, if this the cause,
The meanest work divine.

It is not just the way George Herbert wrote it.  He puts, perhaps, a sharper point on it.  He reminds us that a man may look at his work as he looks at a pane of glass — either seeing nothing but the glass, or looking straight through the glass to the wide heavens beyond. And he tells us plainly that there is nothing so mean [lowly] but that the great words, “for thy sake,” can glorify it:

A servant, with this clause,
Makes drudgery divine,
Who sweeps a room as for Thy laws,
Makes that, and the action, fine.

But the doctrine is the same, and it is the doctrine, the fundamental doctrine, of Protestant morality, from which the whole system of Christian ethics unfolds.  It is the great doctrine of “vocation,” the doctrine, to wit, that the best service we can offer to God is just to do our duty — our plain, homely duty, whatever that may chance to be. The Middle Ages did not think so; they cut a cleft between the religious and the secular life, and counseled him who wished to be religious to turn his back on what they called the “world,” that is to say, not the wickedness that is in the world — “the world, the flesh and the devil,” as we say — but the work-a-day world, that congeries of occupations which forms the daily task of men and women, who perform their duty to themselves and their fellowmen.  Protestantism put an end to all that. As Professor Doumergue eloquently puts it, “Then Luther came, and, with still more consistency, Calvin, proclaiming the great idea of ‘vocation,’ an idea and a word which are found in the languages of all the Protestant peoples — Beruf, Calling, Vocation — and which are lacking in the languages of the peoples of antiquity and of medieval culture.  ‘Vocation’ — it is the call of God, addressed to every man, whoever he may be, to lay upon him a particular work, no matter what. And the calls, and therefore also the called, stand on a complete equality with one another.  The burgomaster is God’s burgomaster; the physician is God’s physician; the merchant is God’s merchant; the laborer is God’s laborer.  Every vocation, liberal, as we call it, or manual, the humblest and the vilest in appearance as truly as the noblest and the most glorious, is of divine right.”  Talk of the divine right of kings!  Here is the divine right of every workman, no one of whom needs to be ashamed, if only he is an honest and good workman. “Only laziness,” add Professor Doumergue, “is ignoble, and while Romanism [Roman Catholicism] multiplies its mendicant orders, the Reformation banishes the idle from its towns.”

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