Inaugural Lecture - Center for Classical Theology - REGISTER
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B. B. Warfield on the Incarnation

By Fred Zaspel–

[photo source]

Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield (1851-1921) is well known as the great polemic theologian of Old Princeton Seminary. He is also well known as the great exponent of the inspiration and authority of Scripture.

Accurate as these pieces of biographical data are, however, neither captures the heart of this great Princetonian. Professionally, Benjamin Warfield was first and foremost a Christologian. Personally, he was above all else, a Christian. Self-consciously, he was a sinner rescued by a divine Savior, and this was his heartthrob that pulses through all his varied works.

The various “kenosis” theories which in his day had been devised left the church with a Christ divested of deity. According to these theories Christ, in coming to earth, “emptied himself” of his Godhood. He was now a mere man. A great man, yes, but a mere man nonetheless.

But Warfield could not allow this notion to go unchecked. He argued at great length — books, critical reviews, journal articles, printed sermons — that this will just never do. Apart from a real incarnation of the second Person of the Godhead, there is no Christianity at all in any meaningful sense. Indeed, this is the hinge on which the Christian system turns, its very center and core. Only a Christ who is both divine and human will do.

Why? Because Christianity is above all else a sinner’s religion — it is a religion of redemption. It was not necessary for God the Son to become incarnate — there was nothing lacking in him, no need unfulfilled. Nor was it necessary for him to save rebel sinners. But given his gracious purpose to save, “it was necessary” for him to be made like us in every way so that he could stand as our substitute and make propitiation for our sins (Heb.2:17).

This is the whole rationale of the incarnation, and this is its glory. “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1Tim.1:15). Its entire motive was one of grace. Human sin was its occasion, and human redemption was its goal. And this is the linchpin of the gospel — the glorious Son of God stooped to become all that we are in order to bring us rescue.

Only in recognition of this great condescension of grace do we learn the love of God for us. And only here is our faith and love drawn out to its full height.

Fred Zaspel holds a Ph.D. in historical theology from the Free University of Amsterdam. He is currently a pastor at the Reformed Baptist Church of Franconia, PA. He is also the interim Senior Pastor at New Hyde Park Baptist Church on New York’s Long Island, and Adjunct Professor of Systematic Theology at Calvary Baptist Seminary in Lansdale, PA. He is also the author of The Continuing Relevance of Divine Law (1991); The Theology of Fulfillment (1994); Jews, Gentiles, & the Goal of Redemptive History (1996); New Covenant Theology with Tom Wells (New Covenant Media); The Theology of B.B. Warfield: A Systematic Summary (Crossway, 2010); Warfield on the Christian Life: Living in Light of the Gospel (Crossway, 2012). Fred is married to Kimberly and they have two grown children, Gina and Jim.

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