1332) In Sickness and in Health

“I, Benjamin take thee Annie, to be my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health.”

     In 1876 when Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield made this vow to his bride, Annie Kinkead, he meant it with all of his being.  Warfield was born in 1851 near Lexington, Kentucky.  His father was a farmer and a published expert on raising cattle.  His mother was the daughter of Rev. Robert Jefferson Breckinridge, a theologian at the Presbyterian seminary in Danville, Kentucky.

     As a boy, Warfield made a public profession of his faith in the Lord Jesus and joined the Second Presbyterian Church of Lexington at the age of sixteen.  His mother wanted him to be a minister, but while he was a student at Princeton University, his main academic interests were mathematics and science.  He graduated with highest honors at the age of just nineteen and went off to Europe for graduate study in science.  To everyone’s surprise and his mother’s delight, he wrote home in 1872 to announce that he had decided to enter the ministry instead.

     He returned to the United States and entered Princeton Theological Seminary, graduating with the class of 1876.  That summer he married Annie Kinkead, the daughter of a prominent Lexington attorney who had once represented Abraham Lincoln in a trial.

     For their honeymoon the happy couple went to Europe, where Warfield was to study at the University of Leipzig.  One day while they were hiking in the Harz Mountains of Germany, they were caught in a violent thunderstorm.  Annie suffered a nervous breakdown from which she never recovered.  She remained to some degree an invalid for the rest of her life.

     Back in America, Warfield served nine years as professor of New Testament at Western Theological Seminary in Allegheny, Pennsylvania.  In 1887 he was called to Princeton Theological Seminary as professor of Theology.

     At Princeton, Warfield became his generation’s leading exponent of Calvinistic theology in general and the authority of Scripture in particular.  He was an outspoken critic of the liberal scholarship of his day and a prolific author.  His collected works fill ten volumes.

     In the midst of all his teaching and writing, Warfield was simultaneously caring for his beloved Annie.  At first she was able to go on walks through the town of Princeton with her husband.  When this became too difficult for her, they would walk together back and forth across the front porch of their home.  Eventually she became bedridden and was seen by few others than her husband.  By his own choice, Warfield spent nearly all of his non-teaching hours at home.  Even with a busy academic schedule, he reserved time every day for reading to Annie.  He was almost never away from his wife for more than two hours at a time.

     During the last ten years of Annie’s life, the Warfields only left Princeton once, to go on a vacation that he hoped would improve her health.  In spite of the limitations placed on his life by her condition, no one ever heard one word of complaint from Warfield.  In describing him a friend once said, “He has had only two interests in life—his work and Mrs. Warfield.”

     When Annie Warfield died on November 18, 1915, her husband had lovingly cared for her for thirty-nine years.  Warfield himself died five years later.

     In spite of all the hours spent as caregiver to his wife, no other theologian of his time is as widely read today or has had his books in print as long as those of Benjamin Warfield.  God blessed his faithfulness to his marriage vow.

The One Year Book of Christian History, by E. Michael and Sharon O. Rusten, Tyndale Publishing House, 2003, pages 646-647.

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Benjamin Warfield  (1851-1921)

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Philippians 4:12-13  —   I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

I Corinthians 13:7-8a  —   Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails…

Matthew 19:5b-6  —  (Jesus said), “‘A man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh;’ so they are no longer two, but one flesh.  Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

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A PRAYER FOR MARRIED COUPLES:

O God, out of all the world you let us find one another and learn together the meaning of love.  Let us never fail to hold love precious.  Let the flame of it never waver or grow dim, but burn in our hearts as an unwavering devotion, and shine through our eyes in gentleness and understanding.  Teach us to remember the little courtesies, to be swift to speak the grateful and happy word, to believe rejoicingly in each other’s best, and to face all life bravely because we face it with a united heart.  Through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Walter Russel Bowie  (1882-1969), Rector of Grace Episcopal Church, New York City

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