2 Corinthians 12:9-10 [ESV] “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
One of the hottest debates raging in the Christian church these days is the issue of spiritual gifts, but more specifically, the gifts of prophecy, healing and tongues. In October 2013, Grace Community Church in California hosted the “Strange Fire” conference, aimed at confronting charismatic abuses within Christianity. The conference ignited a firestorm of response through blogs, articles, books, and in internet chatrooms across the globe. On opposite sides of debate sit two main camps: the continuationists (all the gifts of the New Testament church are in full operation and have never ceased) and the cessationists (the revelatory gifts, such as prophecy, signs, healing, tongues, have ceased at the time of the death of the last Apostle). And in the middle, is everyone else, including a relatively new camp known as “open-but-cautious”, who do not subscribe to the notion that miraculous gifts are prevalent, but are not willing to concede that all gifts have ceased.
Now, that’s a lot of jargon. And for most people who don’t follow closely along with the debate or who have not invested themselves in studying the theology of the issue, it might sound like a bunch of yadda-yadda-yadda. But there is a profoundly real issue at stake: Does God still interact in supernatural ways in the world? But even closer to home is this: if my loved one gets sick, will God heal them? And if He does, will He do it through a “healer”? And if so, should I go and seek such a person? Certainly, there is more to the issue than simply this, but for the confines of this post, I want to look at one small thread of this topic.
One of the most outspoken opponents to the existence of modern miracles was Benjamin B. Warfield (1851-1921). Warfield was a professor of theology at Princeton Seminary in its heyday, and was deemed “the lion of Princeton”. He was a world-class scholar, a formidable apologist, and a theological stalwart. His works have been published in a 10-volume set, but it is believed that another 10 volumes of miscellaneous work is in existence. Among the work not included in the 10-volume set is the book Counterfeit Miracles. In the book, Warfield advocates for the cessation of miracles since the time of the Apostles. By our theological standards, Warfield would be considered a hard-lined, hyper-cessationist.
Warfield has been criticized through history for his hard stance against the modern miraculous, to the point where recent books have been written in opposition to his views. Often times, such staunch cessationism is seen as dead, anti-spiritual, cold and untrusting. It is often reviled as spiritual immaturity and an unwillingness to yield to the power of God through the Holy Spirit.
The modern opponent to this stance might say, “How dare you limit God’s power!” “Why would you single-handedly snuff out the hope of the broken, but telling them that God won’t heal them?” “Don’t you trust in God?” While Warfield’s legacy is that of doctrine, what is less talked about is his personal life. Warfield himself shared in the fellowship of suffering, forced to his knees, in need of God’s grace and mercy.
In August 1876, Warfield married a girl named Annie Pearce Kinkead. Very soon after their wedding, they made a trip to Germany. While overseas, Annie was struck by lightning and became permanently paralyzed. This was devastating for the Warfields. But upon returning to America, Benjamin would act as Annie’s caregiver. Remember, this was a hundred years ago, before modern treatments and visiting nurses.
Annie would receive no occupational therapy. There were no substantial pain relievers. No respite care. No traveling nurses. No health insurance.
But he would go above and beyond for his wife, scheduling his classes and writing into blocks of time, ensuring that he would never be gone from the house for more than 2 hours. And while trained as a world-class scholar, Benjamin would not be well-versed in medicine, but would give his all to provide the best care possible for his ailing wife.
While it’s not documented, one could almost imagine faithful Ben on his knees, late at night, eyes bloodshot from study, crying out: “God, please heal my Annie!”
But healing would never come.
What would come of the life of the Warfields would be a staggering body of theological work from Benjamin, and a testimony of undying love and faithfulness in the marriage of Ben and Annie. While Annie would encourage her husband in his study, Ben would selflessly care for her for 40 years until her death in 1915.
Many through the years have attested to God healing them of their ailments, while others have endured through life with no relief. But despite all the theology and debate, there is no doubt that Benjamin B. Warfield stood on God’s tender encouragement: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” And with Paul, Benjamin could proclaim through his testimony, “Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
Will God heal the sick? Maybe, maybe not. We cannot know the mind of God or His purposes. But we can stand on the bedrock truth that God is compassionate and gracious, and for those who find their deepest peace in Christ, they find that God’s grace is sufficient.
Note: Find the rest of the Portraits of Faith series here: EntreatingFavor.com/PortraitsOfFaith