The Religious Life of 

            Theological Students












                               By B. B. Warfield



An address delivered by B. B. Warfield at Princeton 
Theological Seminary, October 4, 1911. (Abridged)

I am asked to speak to you on the religious life of the
student of theology. It is the most important subject
which can engage our thought.

             1.        Spiritual and Intellectual Fitness

This is not to depreciate the importance of the
intellectual preparation of the student for the
ministry. The importance of the intellectual
preparation of the student for the ministry is the
reason of the existence of our Theological Colleges.
Say what you will, do what you will, the ministry is
a “learned profession”. The man without learning, no
matter with what other gifts he may be endowed, is
unfit for its duties. The minister must be “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.

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.
But 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?

What an absurd antithesis! There can be no “either—
or” here (either a student or a man of God). You
must be both. Religion does not take a man away
from his work; it sends him to his work with an
added quality of devotion.

         2.  Importance of a Sense of “Vocation”

But the doctrine is the same, and it is the doctrine,
the fundamental doctrine, of Protestant morality. 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
counselled him who wished to be religious to turn
his back on what they called “the world”— not the
wickedness that is in the world, but the work-a-day
world, the occupations which form the daily task of
men and women.

Protestantism put an end to all that.
Then Luther came, and, with still more
consistency, Calvin, proclaiming the great
idea of “vocation.” “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 labourer
is God’s labourer. 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

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 is ignoble, and while Romanism
multiplies its mendicant orders, the Reformation
banishes the idle from its towns.”

         3.    The Significance of Diligence in Study

Now, as students of theology, your vocation is to
study theology; and to study it diligently, in
accordance with the apostolic injunction:
“Whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord.” It
is precisely for this that you are students of theology;
this is your “next duty.”

Dr. Charles Hodge tells of Philip Lindsay, the most
popular professor in the Princeton College of his
day, that “he told our class that we would find that
one of the best preparations for death was a
thorough knowledge of the Greek grammar.” “This,”
comments Dr. Hodge in his quaint fashion, “was his
way of telling us that we ought to do our duty.”

Certainly, every man who aspires to be a religious
man must begin by doing his duty, his obvious duty,
his daily task, the particular work which lies before
him to do at this particular time and place.
If this work happens to be studying, then his
religious life depends on nothing more
fundamentally than on just studying.

You may think of your studies what you please. You
may consider them as servile labour and the meanest
work. But you must faithfully give yourselves to
them, if you wish to be religious men. No religious
character can be built up on the foundation of
neglected duty.

           4.   Study as Worship

There is certainly something wrong with the
religious life of a theological student who does not
study. But it does not quite follow that therefore
everything is right with his religious life if he does

It is possible to study—even to study theology—in
an entirely secular spirit.

In all its branches alike, theology has as its unique
end to make God known. The student of theology is
brought by his daily task into the presence of God,
and is kept there. Can a religious man stand in the
presence of God, and not worship? Surely that is
possible only for an irreligious man, or at least for an
unreligious man.

             5.        Examine yourself

Here I place in your hands at once a touchstone by
which you may discern your religious state, and an
instrument for the quickening of your religious life.
Do you prosecute your daily tasks as students of
theology as “religious exercises”?

If you do not, look to yourselves: it is surely not all
right with the spiritual condition of that man who
can busy himself daily with divine things, with a
cold and impassive heart.

If you do, rejoice.

But in any case, see that you do! And that you do it
ever more and more abundantly. Whatever you may
have done in the past, for the future make all your
theological studies “religious exercises.”

This is the great rule for a rich and wholesome
religious life in a theological student. Put your heart
into your studies; do not merely occupy your mind
with them, but put your heart into them. They bring
you daily and hourly into the very presence of God;
his ways, his dealing with men, the infinite majesty
of his Being form their very subject matter.

Put the shoes from off your feet in this holy


          6.  Familiarity breeds contempt?

We are frequently told, though, that the great danger
of the theological student lies precisely in his
constant contact with divine things. The words
which tell you of God’s terrible majesty or of his
glorious goodness may come to be mere words to
you—Hebrew and Greek words, with etymologies,
and inflections, and connections in sentences. The
reasonings which establish to you the mysteries of
his saving activities may come to be to you mere
logical paradigms, with no further significance to
you than their formal logical conclusiveness. God’s
stately steppings in his redemptive processes may
become to you a mere series of facts of history.

It is your great danger. But it is your great danger,
only because it is your great privilege. Think of what
your privilege is when your greatest danger is that
the great things of religion may become common to

Other men, distracted by the dreadful drag of the
world upon them and the awful rush of the world’s
work, find it hard to get time and opportunity so
much as to pause and consider whether there be such
things as God, and religion, and salvation from the
sin that compasses them about and holds them

The very atmosphere of your life is these things; you
breathe them in at every pore; they surround you,
encompass you, press in upon you from every side.
It is all in danger of becoming common to you! God
forgive you, you are in danger of becoming weary of

Let us turn the question—are you alive to what your
privileges are? Are you making full use of them?
Are you, by this constant contact with divine things,
growing in holiness, becoming every day more and
more men of God? You will never prosper in your
religious life in the Theological College until your
study becomes a religious exercise out of which you
draw every day enlargement of heart, elevation of
spirit, and adoring delight in your Maker and your

            7.  Importance of Religious Community

There are other religious exercises demanding your
punctual attention which cannot be neglected. I refer
particular now to the stated formal religious
meetings of the College. No man can withdraw
himself from the stated religious services of the
community of which he is a member, without serious
injury to his personal religious life.

The apostolic writer exhorts “to forsake not the
assembling of ourselves together.” He has in mind
the stated, formal assemblages of the community,
and lays upon the hearts and consciences of his
readers their duty to themselves. When he adds, “As
the custom of some is,” he puts a lash into his
command. We can see his lip curl as he says it. Who
are these people, who are so vastly strong, so
supremely holy, that they do not need the assistance
of the common worship for themselves; and who,
being so strong and holy, will not give their
assistance to the common worship?

I trust you will not tell me that the stated religious
exercises of the College are too numerous, or are
wearying. That would only be to betray the low ebb
of your own religious vitality.

Some students do not find themselves in a prayerful
mood in the early hours of a winter morning; and are
much too tired at the close of a hard day’s work to
pray. They think the preaching of the Sabbath
morning dull and uninteresting, and they do not find
Christ at the Sabbath afternoon conference.

Such things I seem to have heard before; and yours
will be an exceptional pastorate, if you do no hear
something very like them, before you have been in a
pastorate six months. Such things meet you every
day on the street. They are the ordinary expression
of the heart which is dulled or is dulling to the
religious appeal.

Let me tell you straight-out that the preaching you
find dull will no more seem dull to you if you
faithfully obey the Master’s precept: “Take heed
how you hear.” If there is no fire in the pulpit, it falls
to you to kindle it in the pews. No man can fail to
meet with God in the sanctuary if he takes God there
with him.

How easy it is to roll the blame of our cold hearts
over upon the shoulders of our religious leaders!
It is refreshing to observe how Luther dealt with
complaints of lack of attractiveness in his
evangelical preachers. He had not sent them out to
please people, he said, and their function was not to
interest or to entertain. Their function was to teach
the saving truth of God. If they did that, it was
frivolous for people in danger of perishing for want
of the truth to object to the vessel in which it was
offered to them. “People cannot have their ministers
exactly as they wish,” he declares. “They should
thank God for the pure word,” and not demand St.
Augustines and St. Ambroses to preach it to them. If
a pastor pleases the Lord Jesus and is faithful to
him—there is none so great and mighty but he ought
to be pleased with him, too.

But why should we appeal to Luther? Have we not
the example of our Lord Jesus Christ? Are we better
than he? Surely, if ever there was one who might
justly plead that the common worship of the
community had nothing to offer him it was the Lord
Jesus Christ.

But every Sabbath found him seated in his place
among the worshiping people, and there was no act
of stated worship which he felt himself entitled to
discard. Returning from that great baptismal scene,
from the searching trials of the wilderness, and from
that first great tour in Galilee, he came back, as the
record tells, “to Nazareth, where he had been
brought up, and”—so proceeds the amazing
narrative— “he entered, as his custom was, into the
synagogue, on the Sabbath day.” “As his custom
was!” Jesus Christ made it his habitual practice to be
found in his place on the Sabbath day at the stated
place of worship to which he belonged.

Is it necessary for me to exhort those who would be
like Christ, to see to it that they are imitators of him
in this?

    8.     Private religious exercises

But not even with the most assiduous use of the
corporate expressions of the religious life of the
community have you reached the foundation-stone
of your piety. This is to be found in your closets, or
rather in your hearts, in your private religious
exercises, and in your intimate religious aspirations.

    9.     The Greatness of Your Calling

One hint I may give you, particularly adapted to you
as students for the ministry: Keep always before
your mind the greatness of your calling, that is to
say, these two things: the immensity of the task
before you, the infinitude of the resources at your

If we face the tremendous difficulty of the work
before us, it will throw us back upon our knees; and
if we worthily gauge the power of the gospel
committed to us, that will keep us on our knees.

      10.     Seriousness of your Calling

In a time like this, careful observers of the life of our
Colleges tell us that the most noticeable thing about
it is a certain falling off from the intense seriousness
of outlook by which students of theology were
formerly characterized. So far as it is true, it is a
great evil.

I would call you back to this seriousness of outlook,
and bid you cultivate it, if you would be men of God
now, and ministers who need not be ashamed

Think of the greatness of the minister’s calling; the
greatness of the issues which hang on your
worthiness or your unworthiness for its high
functions; and determine once for all that with God’s
help you will be worthy.

“God had but one Son,” says Thomas Goodwin,
“and he made him a minister.” “None but he who
made the world,” says John Newton, “can make a
minister”—that is, a minister who is worthy.

            11.       Beware of being a Castaway

You can, of course, be a minister of a sort, and not
be God-made. You can go through the motions of
the work, and I shall not say that your work will be
in vain—for God is good and who knows by what
instruments he may work his will of good for men?
What does Paul mean when he utters that terrible
warning: “Lest when I have preached to others, I
myself should be a castaway?” And there is an even
more dreadful contingency. It is our Saviour himself
who tells us that it is possible to compass sea and
land to make one proselyte, and when we have made
him to make him twofold more a child of hell than
we are ourselves.

Will we not be in awful peril of making our
proselytes children of hell if we are not ourselves
children of heaven? There is no mistake more
terrible than to suppose that activity in Christian
work can take the place of depth of Christian

Activity, of course, is good. In the cause of the Lord
we should run and not be weary—but not as a
substitute for inner religious strength.

In the tendencies of our modern life, which all make
for ceaseless activity, have a care that it does not
become your case. Do you pray? How much do you
pray? How much do you love to pray? What place in
your life does the “still hour,” alone with God, take?
I am sure that if you once get a true glimpse of what
the ministry of the cross is, and of what you, as men
preparing for this ministry, should be, you will pray,
“Lord, who is sufficient for these things?” Your
heart will cry, “Lord, make me sufficient for these

   12.    Angels Preparing to Sound the Trumpets

Old Cotton Mather wrote a great little book once, to
serve as a guide to students for the ministry. The not
very happy title which he gave it is Manductio ad
Ministerium. But by a stroke of genius he added a
sub-title which is more significant: The angels
preparing to sound the trumpets!

That is what Cotton Mather calls you students for the
ministry: the angels, preparing to sound the
trumpets! Take the name to yourselves, and live up
to it. Give your days and nights to living up to it!
And then, perhaps, when you come to sound the
trumpets the note will be pure and clear and strong,
and perchance may pierce even to the grave and
wake the dead.


Taken from Western Reformed Seminary Journal 8/2, August

2001, 23–27. Used by permission. Modifications and headings

added by J. C. Hood, Presbyterian Theological College, Victoria,