Abridged from my Ph.D. dissertation, "The Lion of Princeton"
Princeton College alumni who remembered Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield's student days at Princeton recall that on November 6, 1870, the young Warfield and a certain James Steen, "distinguished themselves by indulging in a little Sunday fight in front of the chapel after Dr. McCosh's afternoon lecture." Warfield, it seems, "in lieu of taking notes" during Dr. McCosh's lecture, took great delight in sketching an "exceedingly uncomplimentary picture of Steen," which was subsequently circulated among the students (Hugh Thomson Kerr, "Warfield: The Person Behind the Theology," 1995, 21). The resulting fist-fight between the two young men ultimately didn't amount to much, though years later many still remembered Warfield's nickname earned that Sunday—"the pugilist" (21-22.).
It may be instructive to note that B. B. Warfield's earliest days at Princeton, as well as his last, are characterized by a passionate defense of his personal honor. Princeton Seminary colleague, Oswald T. Allis, tells the story about Dr. Warfield's encounter with Mrs. Stevenson, the wife of the Seminary President, shortly before Warfield's death and during the height of the controversy at Princeton over an "inclusive" Presbyterian church. When Mrs. Stevenson and Dr. Warfield passed each other on the walk outside the Seminary, some pleasantries were exchanged, and then Mrs. Stevenson reportedly said to the good doctor, "Oh, Dr. Warfield, I am praying that everything will go harmoniously at the [General] Assembly!" To which Warfield responded, "Why, Mrs. Stevenson, I am praying that there may be a fight" (O. T. Allis, "Personal Impressions of Dr Warfield," in The Banner of Truth 89, Fall 1971, 10-14). As Hugh Kerr, formerly Warfield Professor of Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary reflects, "from the very beginning to end, Warfield was a fighter" (Kerr, "Warfield: The Person Behind the Theology," 22).
B. B. Warfield was not only a fighter, he was also a theological giant, exerting significant influence upon American Presbyterianism for nearly forty-years. John DeWitt, professor of Church History at Princeton during the Warfield years, told Warfield biographer Samuel Craig, that “he had known intimately the three great Reformed theologians of America of the preceding generation—Charles Hodge, W. G. T. Shedd and Henry B. Smith—and that he was not only certain that Warfield knew a great deal more than any one of them but that he was disposed to think that he knew more than all three of them put together” (Samuel G. Craig, "Benjamin B. Warfield," in B. B. Warfield, Biblical and Theological Studies, P & R,1986, xvii). This was quite an accolade from one (DeWitt) who was himself a man of great scholarship. Unlike many of today's "specialists," B. B. Warfield was fully qualified to teach any of the major seminary subjects—New Testament, Church History, Systematic or Biblical Theology, and Apologetics (xix.).