Among the bright stars which have risen among the Baptist ministry, and set ere their meridian was reached, must be numbered the accomplished, the talented, the zealous William C. Warfield. The associate of Hodgen, of Warder, and Wardeman; with more learning and greater advantages than most of his colaborers, his piety, his zeal, his great usefulness, ever showed that he drank at the same fountain which warmed the full hearts of his more obscure and unlearned brethren.
His Birth and Education
Not long after Lexington assumed the aspect of a city, and became the influential Capital of the West, William C. Warfield was numbered among the first native born Kentuckians. His parents had moved to Lexington in 1790, where, six years afterwards, William was born.
His childhood displayed evidences of genius. His temper was kind and affectionate. With a spirit which could brook no insult, which could fear no danger, he was yet forgiving and forgetful of injuries. His parents were strict Presbyterians, and the catechism was drilled into his young mind, while his whole training was subjected to the severest regimen of Puritan discipline. At the age of ten he commenced the study of Greek and Latin, under the patriarch of Presbyterianism in the West - “Old Father Rice.” He soon after entered the “freshman class” of Transylvania University, and was numbered among its most industrious and brilliant students.
During this time no apparent religious emotions or principles affected his mind, or influenced his conduct. A flood of infidel speculation had set in on America, and found some of its most accomplished advocates in Lexington. The principles which wrapt France in the blackness of despair, were transported across the Atlantic, and H. Toulmain, a disciple of Priestly, a highly
educated Englishman, filling a responsible official station in Kentucky, was the polished and unceasing propagator of European skepticism. With other, and perhaps most of the young men about Lexington, William became an unbeliever.
At the age of twenty he commenced the study of law in that department, and soon after graduated with honor. Life was now before him, a bright and prosperous future. His father, Walter Warfield, was numbered among the oldest, most successful and most eminent physicians of Lexington or the West. His brother, Charles Warfield, had studied the profession of his father, and was successfully practicing that art. One of his sisters had married William Blain, who stood prominent at the Lexington bar, so renowned for its ability and learning; and who, but for his untimely death by consumption, would have ranked second to none of those mighty men which Kentucky has produced.
Such was the position William Warfield occupied, and such the associations and influences around him as he stepped on life's stage in the young vigor of manhood.
The Theater - The Flight
“That school of morals,” the theater, as it is often called, has proved the descending step to ruin to many a noble youth. To the gayety and profligacy so frequently exhibited upon the stage, are added the seductive charms of drinking saloons, and other places of iniquity, glittering in the pathway to the very door of the theater. Seldom is one visited without the other.
Lexington forty years ago had one of the best supported theaters in the West, and William C. Warfield was a frequent visitor of the drama. On one of these visits, when the house was crowded, during some favorite acting, an altercation took place between some young men, doubtless heated with wine. William Warfield was a principal party in the affair. It took place in the theater. Loud voices were heard. A rush was made to part the combatants. The whole house was thrown into the utmost consternation. It was soon found that young Bradford, of Lexington, was dangerously stabbed; and William Warfield, who had wounded him, had fled. The young man was borne to his home. His wound was pronounced mortal. Warrants were issued for
the arrest of Warfield. He was gone, no one knew whither. And while a gloom spread over the community, two families mourned in despair - that of young Bradford, who expected his death; and the parents and relatives of Warfield, who saw in this act, his peace, standing and usefulness, forever blighted.
For weeks the place of his concealment was a profound secret. He had escaped from the theater during the confusion which followed the stabbing of Bradford. He fled from the city that night, and his whereabouts was shrouded in mystery.*
Let us follow the culprit. On through the darkness of that night, without a companion, he pushed his jaded horse, hardly knowing whither he should flee. Like Cain, he felt the murderer's brand on his brow, and burning into his brain and his heart. He crossed the Kentucky river, and by daylight arrived near where Lawrenceburg now stands. After obtaining some food for himself and horse, he pushed on, not caring whither he went; but taking a southerly direction, the evening found him - broken down - his horse unable to go farther - in the neighborhood of Elizabethtown, Nelson county, Ky.
How mysterious are God's providences; and his ways past finding out. At the house of a pious Baptist, young Warfield put up. Sadly passed the hours. Sadder still was the gloom that rested on the home from which he had fled. But all were happy around him. Wardeman and William Warder were holding a meeting in the neighborhood; and hearts were bounding with joy under the influence of new-found peace. To attend these meetings, he feared; to refuse, looked suspicious. The Lord was leading him. in a way he knew not. He was at last induced to go. He listened to the earnest voice of William Warder, as the offer of mercy to sinners of the deepest guilt fell in melting tones from the lips of that eloquent man of God. The light of gospel grace shone in upon that poor, cheerless, broken heart. He bowed, he wept, he lifted up his cry for mercy; and angels, bending over
* These facts I have learned from Dr. T. S. Bell, who was acquainted with the circumstance. I have also a letter from William Warder to Walter Warder, giving an account of Warfield's conversion.
the spot, raised their glad voices in rapturous rejoicings. The dead was made alive; the lost was found.
Weeks passed. Jeremiah Vardeman had baptized him into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It was soon known that young Bradford was out of all danger, and it would be perfectly safe for Warfield to return. And with the news of his place of retreat and his intended return, till then unknown to all, even his parents and relatives, was also the grateful tidings that the young, the wild, the bold and talented Warfield was accepted of Christ - an humble believer - a Baptist.
His Ordination and Work in the Mnistry
The circumstances under which William C. Warfield became a Baptist, as little indicated such an event, as Paul's journey to Damascus foreshadowed the glorious future that spread out before him, from the time of his unexpected interview with the Lord, and the intercourse with Ananias in the city of Zenobia. Like him, Warfield, when it pleased God to reveal his Son in him, immediately conferred not with flesh and blood. The customs of his fathers, in which he had been carefully trained, he abandoned for the simple truth. The brilliant course marked out for him by his friends; the walks of ambition; the high roads to eminence, wealth and renown - he forsook all to follow Christ; and among the Baptists of Kentucky he took his noble stand, there valiantly to do his part in the great battle of life.
“In prosecuting his purpose of becoming a minister,” says Dr. Bell, “he returned to Lexington, where he was warmly welcomed by Dr. Fishback, then one of the most eminent Baptist preachers in Kentucky. Dr. Fishback was a brilliant scholar, of high reputation, and possessed the finest theological library then in the West. The young aspirant to the Christian teacher's office could scarcely have found such opportunities for spiritual improvement anywhere else; and after pursuing his studies for some time, he was ordained as a minister of the first Baptist Church of Lexington, at that time under the pastoral care of Dr. James Fishback. The writer of these memoranda was present at the delivery of the trial sermon of William Warfield, and saw his ordination. He was an earnest, faithful, modest, unassuming and pious preacher of the gospel, as many Baptists in various parts of Kentucky well remember.”
Warfield, soon after his ordination, repaired to Princeton, New
Jersey, and pursued a regular theological course. He was a fellow student with Howard Malcom, and while in the Seminary preached constantly to the Baptist Churches in the vicinity of Princeton.
On his return to Kentucky, he entered with earnestness on the great work of winning souls to Christ. Many were the trophies borne to the Redeemer through his instrumentality, and numerous and lasting in their effects were the revivals which occurred under his preaching.
He was a co-laborer with William Warder; of kindred spirits, with hearts warm, affectionate, full of sympathy, and a zeal which no infirmities, no discouragements could dampen—they were “burning and shining lights.”
In 1835, November 8th, aged thirty-eight, in the noontide of his strength, and in mid-career of his usefulness, the Lord called him from the battle-field. Cheerfully he yielded his spirit to the voice of his Master. He laid by his crown; he entered into rest. Warfield, Warder and Vardeman now sing together in the full tide of bliss, while we offer an humble tribute to their memory and record their names.
===========[From The Christian Repository, 1856, pp. 342-346. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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