Charles Hodge: Nothing but truth can really do good

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Charles Hodge, in his commentary on Romans 14, makes a point that Christians do well to consider in apologetics and other forms of conversation and discussion, especially in the age of social media.

It is, therefore, of great importance to keep the conscience free; under no subjection but to truth and God. This is necessary, not only on account of its influence on our own moral feelings, but also because nothing but truth can really do good. To advocate even a good cause with bad arguments does great harm, by exciting unnecessary opposition; by making good men, who oppose the arguments, appear to oppose the truth; by introducing a false standard of duty; by failing to enlist the support of an enlightened conscience, and by the necessary forfeiture of the confidence of the intelligent and well informed. The cause of benevolence, therefore, instead of being promoted, is injured by all exaggerations, erroneous statements, and false principles, on the part of its advocates.

According to Hodge, therefore, it matters not just what we say, but how we say it. The Lord, of course, can bring good out of evil, but as the Scripture teaches elsewhere, we are not just called to “speak the truth,” but to do so “in love” (Eph. 4:15). Hodge makes note of this in his commentary on Ephesians:

…the apostle, while condemning all instability with regard to faith, and while denouncing the craft of false teachers, immediately adds the injunction to adhere to the truth in love. It is not mere stability in sound doctrine, but faith as combined with love that he requires.

To truth, then, must be added that which is good. The presentation of truth must be done in love. In this way, Christians glorify God after the most excellent way (1 Cor. 12:31). Love “rejoiceth in the truth” (1 Cor. 13:6). Love, therefore, is the motive for “speaking the truth,” and as such, we must remember not only how to declare to others that which is true, but also to do in a manner consistent with the gospel of God’s grace. As Hodge also notes (again, in his commentary on Ephesians):

It is possible "to hold the truth in unrighteousness;" to have speculative faith without love. The character most offensive to God and man is that of a malignant zealot for the truth.

Hodge, then, emphasizes in these commentaries the unity of purpose in speaking truth in the right manner, and so glorifying God both in what we say, and in how we say it. May such a unity of purpose be the aim of all Christians who desire to exemplify that “more excellent way.”

Why the need for systematic theology? Charles Hodge answers

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The systematization of the Holy Scriptures has been a tremendous blessing to the Church. But some wonder why it was necessary. To this query, Charles Hodge responds:

It may naturally be asked, why not take the truths as God has seen fit to reveal them, and thus save ourselves the trouble of showing their relation and harmony?

The answer to this question is, in the first place, that it cannot be done. Such is the constitution of the human mind that it cannot help endeavoring to systematize and reconcile the facts which it admits to be true. In no department of knowledge have been satisfied with the possession of a mass of undigested facts. And the students of the Bible can as little be expected to thus satisfied. There is a necessity, therefore, for the construction of systems of theology. Of this the history of the Church abundant proof. In all ages and among all denominations, such systems have been produced.

Second, A much higher kind of knowledge is thus obtained, than by the mere accumulation of isolated facts. It is one thing, for example, to know that oceans, continents, islands, mountains, and rivers exist on the face of the earth; and a much higher thing to know the causes which have determined the distribution of land and water on the surface of our globe; the configuration of the earth; the effects of that configuration on climate, on the races of plants and animals, on commerce, civilization, and the destiny of nations. It is by determining these causes that geography has been raised from a collection of facts to a highly important and elevated science. In like manner, without the knowledge of the laws of attraction and and motion, astronomy would be a confused and unintelligible collection of facts. What is true of other sciences is true of theology. We cannot know what God has revealed in his Word unless we understand, at least in some good measure, the relation in which the separate truths therein contained stand to each other. It cost the Church centuries of study and controversy to solve the problem concerning the person of Christ; that is, to adjust and bring into harmonious arrangement all the facts which the Bible teaches on that subject.

Third, We have no choice in this matter. If we would discharge our duty as teachers and defenders of the truth, we must endeavor to bring all the facts of revelation into systematic order and mutual relation. It is only thus that we can satisfactorily exhibit their truth, vindicate them from objections, or bring them to bear in their full force on the minds of men.

Fourth, Such is evidently the will of God. He does not teach men astronomy or chemistry, but He gives them the facts out of which those sciences are constructed. Neither does He teach us systematic theology, but He gives us in the Bible the truths which, properly understood and arranged, constitute the science of theology. As the facts of nature are all related and determined by physical laws, so the facts of the Bible are all related and determined by the nature of God and of his creatures. And as He wills that men should study his works and discover their wonderful organic relation and harmonious combination, so it is his will that we should study his Word, and learn that, like the stars, its truths are not isolated points, but systems, cycles, and epicycles, in unending harmony and grandeur. Besides all this, although the Scriptures do not contain a system of theology as a whole, we have in the Epistles of the New Testament, portions of that system wrought out to our hands. These are our authority and guide.

Thus Hodge accounts for the need to systematize the truths of Scripture. His magnum opus, the Systematic Theology in three volumes, is a gem worthy of thoughtful, prayerful study. Explore it further here.

A letter to Pope Pius IX from Charles Hodge

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In advance of the First Vatican Council of 1869-1870, the Roman Catholic council at which the doctrine of papal infallibility was officially promulgated, Pope Pius IX extended an invitation to Protestants to attend and to “embrace the opportunity” to “return to the only one [Roman Catholic] fold.” On behalf of the Old and New School branches of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (which reunited in 1869), Charles Hodge was selected to write a letter in response. This letter has recently been added to Log College Press. (Note: The Banner of Truth has a substantially edited and redacted version of this letter available to read on their site, whereas the letter at LCP is not redacted.)

The letter is remarkable for compacting such a powerful and gracious testimony to the truth so succinctly. First, Hodge explains why the two General Assemblies of the PCUSA would not be attending the council, despite the conviction of these American Presbyterian bodies that all efforts should be made to promote Christian unity and despite the fact that Presbyterianism affirms the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Chalcedonian Creed, as well as affirming that “we regard as consistent with Scripture the doctrinal decisions of the first six ecumenical councils; and because of that consistency we receive those decisions as expressing our faith.” Indeed, he characterizes the Presbyterianism system of faith as “Augustinian.”

Next, while affirming that Presbyterians are “neither heretics, nor schismatics,” he articulates four principles which show what Presbyterians stand for Biblically in contrast to Roman Catholicism.

  • First. That the word of God contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, is the only infallible rule of faith and practice. The Council of Trent, how ever, demands that we receive, pari pietatis affectu , the teachings of tradition as supplementing and interpreting the written word of God. This we cannot do without incurring the condemnation which our Lord pronounced on the Pharisees when he said, 'Ye make void the word of God by your traditions.'

  • Second. The right of private judgement. When we open the Scriptures, we find them addressed to the people. They speak to us; they command us to search their sacred pages; they require us to believe what they teach, and to do what they enjoin; they hold us personally responsible for our faith and conduct. The promise of the inward teaching of the Spirit to guide men into the knowledge of the truth, is made to the people of God; not to the clergy exclusively; much less to any special order of the clergy alone.”

  • Third. We believe in the universal priesthood of believers; that is, that all men have, through Christ, access by one Spirit unto the Father. (Eph. ii. 18.) They need no human priest to secure their access to God. Every man for himself may come with boldness to the throne of grace to obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb. iv. 16.)”

  • Fourth. We deny the perpetuity of the apostleship. As no man can be a prophet without the spirit of prophecy, so no man can be an apostle without the gifts of an apostle. Those gifts, as we learn from Scripture, are plenary knowledge of the gospel, derived by immediate revelation from Christ, (Gal. i. 12,) and personal infallibility in teaching and ruling. What are the seals of the apostleship, we learn from what St. Paul says to the Corinthians, 'Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, in wonders, in mighty deeds.' (2 Cor. xii. 12.) Modern prelates, although they claim apostolic authority, do not pretend to possess the gilts on which that authority was founded; nor do they venture to exhibit the 'signs' by which the commission of the messengers of Christ was "authenticated. We cannot, therefore, recognize them, either individually or collectively, as the infallible teachers and rulers of the church."

With these principles expressed, Hodge concludes with an explicit rejection of the teaching that the “Bishop of Rome” is “Christ’s vicar on Earth, possessing ‘supreme rule.’” He also issues a solemn protest against several of the leading errors of Rome.

Some of those doctrines and usages are the following, namely, The doctrine of transubstantiation and the sacrifice of the mass; the adoration of the host; the power of judicial absolution, (which places the salvation of the people in the hands of the priests; the doctrine of the grace of orders, that is, that supernatural power and influence are conferred in ordination by the imposition of hands; the doctrine of purgatory; the worship of the Virgin Mary; the invocation of saints; the worship of images; the doctrine of reserve and of implicit faith, and the consequent withholding the Scriptures from the people, etc.

Then, finally, Hodge makes a declaration that is especially worthy of remembrance for its for forceful but gracious expression of truth.

While loyalty to Christ, obedience to the holy Scriptures, consistent respect for the early councils of the church, and the firm belief that pure 'religion is the foundation of all human society,' compel us to withdraw from fellowship with the Church of Rome, we, nevertheless, desire to live in charity with all men. We love all who love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. We cordially recognize as Christian brethren all who worship, trust, and serve him as their God and Saviour according to the inspired word. And we hope to be united in heaven with all those who unite with us on earth in saying,' Unto him who loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God — to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.' (Rev. i. 6.).

The letter which Hodge wrote was signed by the Old School moderator Melancthon Williams Jacobus, Sr. and the New School moderator Philemon Halsted Fowler. “It is,” in the words of one 19th century writer, “a model of manly argument, of plain truth expressed with Christian frankness, and yet with courtesy, and even with tenderness.” For a clear, succinct, and solid 19th century testimony as to why Protestants cannot unite with the Roman Catholic Church, this letter endures today as a remarkable witness to the truth.

What is the "common" eschatology of the church? Charles Hodge answers

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In Charles Hodge’s magnum opus — that is, his Systematic Theology — he addresses the subject of eschatology and summarizes the orthodox beliefs of the Reformed Church concerning ‘last things.’

§ 2. The Common Church Doctrine.

The common Church doctrine is, first, that there is to be a second personal, visible, and glorious advent of the Son of God. Secondly, that the events which are to precede that advent, are

1. The universal diffusion of the Gospel; or, as our Lord expresses it, the ingathering of the elect; this is the vocation of the Christian Church.

2. The conversion of the Jews, which is to be national. As their casting away was national, although a remnant was saved; so their conversion may be national, although some may remain obdurate.

3. The coming of Antichrist.

Thirdly, that the events which are to attend the second advent are: —

1. The resurrection of the dead, of the just and of the unjust.

2. The general judgment.

3. The end of the world. And,

4. The consummation of Christ’s kingdom. (Hodge, Systematic Theology 3:792)

Some of these points are less commonly received by the Reformed Church today, but this summary stands as representative of historic 19th century Presbyterian and Princetonian thought on the end times. It is a good touchstone for the church to consider and discuss today. Start at p. 790 of the third volume of the Systematic Theology and keep reading to see what Hodge has to say about each of the points summarized above.

Rowling, Princeton-style: Charles Hodge

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Charles HodgePrinceton Theological Seminary: A Discourse Delivered at the Re-Opening of the Chapel, September 27, 1874, pp. 18-20:

As to the method of instruction adopted by our first professors little need be said. They both used text-books where they could be had. Dr. Alexander's text-book in theology was Turrettin's Theologia Elenchtica, one of the most perspicuous books ever written. In the discussion of every subject it begins with the Status Quaestionis, stating that the question is not this or that; neither this nor that, until every foreign element is eliminated, and then the precise point in hand is laid down with unmistakable precision. Then follow in distinct paragraphs, numbered one, two, three, and so on, the arguments in its support. Then come the Fontes Solutionum, or answers to objections. The first objection is stated with the answer; then the second, and so on to the end. Dr. Alexander was accustomed to give us from twenty to forty quarto pages, in Latin, to read for a recitation. And we did read them. When we came to recite, the professor would place the book before him and ask, What is the State of Question? What is the first argument? What is the second, &c? Then what is the first objection and its answer? What the second, &c? There were some of my classmates, Dr. Johns the present bishop of the Episcopal Church in Virginia, for example, who would day after day be able to give the State of the Question, all the arguments in its support in their order, all the objections and the answers to them, through the whole thirty or forty pages, without the professor saying a word to him. This is what in the College of New Jersey used to be called rowling. Whatever may be thought of this method of instruction, it was certainly effective. A man who had passed through that drill never got over it. Some years ago I heard the late Bishop McIlvaine preach a very orthodox sermon in the Episcopal Church in this place. When we got home, it being a very warm day, he threw himself on the bed to rest. In the course of conversation he happened to remark that a certain professor failed to make any marks on the minds of his students. I said to him, "Old Turrettin, it seems, has left his mark on your mind." He sprang from the bed, exclaiming, "That indeed he has, and I would give any thing to see his theology translated and made the text-book in all our Seminaries." The Jesuits are wise in their generation, and they have adopted this method of instruction in their institutions.

In fact, it was Charles Hodge who asked his friend, Prof. George Musgrave Giver (1822-1865) to translate Francis Turretin’s Institutes of Elenctic Theology from Latin into English. This was done by Giger in 8,000 handwritten pages before his early passing, but never published until edited by James T. Dennison, Jr. in 1992.

Charles Hodge on Meditation as a Means of Grace

In the context of discussing a recurring theme in sermons by Charles Hodge dealing with the importance of meditation in the life of the Christian believer, Andrew Hoffecker writes:

In a conference sermon on the subject “Meditation as a Means of Grace,” Hodge pointed out the main distinction between meditation and mere intellectual consideration of an idea. The object of the latter is merely to understand intellectually while the object of meditation is to experience the power of God’s Word. He outlines suggestions to aid in this exercise. Believers ought to purpose to do this faithfully, setting aside times when it might be regularly performed. It should be done concomitantly with prayer, i.e., “not only in the formal sense of the word, but also as meaning converse with God.” (W. Andrew Hoffecker, Piety and the Princeton Theologians, pp. 82-83)

Here is the text briefly and directly from Hodge:

Meditation as a Means of Grace

I. What is meditation?
It is the serious, prolonged, devout contemplation of divine things. 1. This is distinguished from mere intellectual examination or consideration. It has a different object. The object of the one is to understand, of the other to experience the power. 2. It is distinguished from casual devout thought and aspiration.

II. It is a means of grace. By means of grace is meant a divinely appointed instrumentality for promoting holiness in the soul. That meditation is such a means is proved, 1. From its being frequently enjoined in Scripture for this end. 2. From the example of the saint as recorded in Scripture. 3. From the experience of the people of God in all ages.

III. Why is it thus salutary? 1. Because God has appointed his truth as the great means of sanctification. 2. Because the truth, to produce its effect, must be present to the mind. "God is not in all his thoughts," it is said of the wicked. "Estranged from God," is the description of the ungodly. 3. The intimate relation between knowledge and feeling, between the cognition and recognition, the … (knowing), and the … (acknowledgment) of divine truth. 4. Because all unholy feelings are subdued in the presence of God, unsound principles are corrected in the light of divine truth. We become conformed to the things with which we are familiar.

IV. Subjects on which we should meditate, are, God, — his law, — his Son, — the plan of salvation, — our own state as sinners, — heaven, etc.

V. Difficulties in the way of this duty. 1. The difficulty of continuous thought. 2. Preoccupation with other things. 3. Indisposition to holding communion with God. 4. Want of method and purpose.

VI. Directions for the performance of the duty. 1. Form the purpose to be faithful in its discharge, from a sense of duty and conviction of its importance. 2. Have a time and place sacred to the duty. 3. Connect it with prayer, not only in the formal sense of the word, but also as meaning converse with God. 4. Connect it with the reading of the Scriptures. Meditate on the word. Read it slowly, with self-application, and pondering its import. 5. Cultivate the habit application, and pondering its import. 5. Cultivate the habit of controlling your thoughts. Do not let them be governed by accident or fortuitous association. Keep the rudder always in your hand. 6. Do not be discouraged by frequent failure; and do not suppose that the excitement of feeling is the measure of advantage. There may be much learned, and much strength gained when there is little emotion. 7. Consecrate the hours especially of social and public worship to this work. Let the mind be filled with God while in his house. (Charles Hodge, sermon preached on Oct. 28, 1855 in Princeton Sermons, pp. 298-299 and Conference Papers, pp. 298-299)

On the Atonement

For those who study the doctrine of the atonement, and particularly its extent, Log College Press has some valuable resources for you. 

In 1817, James Renwick Willson wrote A Historical Sketch of Opinions on the Atonement, which includes his own translation of Francis Turretin's Institutes on that subject (this was several decades before - at Charles Hodge's direction - George Musgrave Giger of Princeton translated the whole of Turretin's Institutes, an 8,000+ page handwritten manuscript). A posthumously-published edition of Willson's work came out in 1859.

A.A. Hodge wrote an important treatise on the atonement in 1867. His father, Charles, wrote On the Nature of the Atonement (1832) and a January 1845 article in the The Biblical Repertory and Princeton Review, republished in 1846 under the title The Orthodox Doctrine Regarding the Extent of the Atonement Vindicated. This latter work was edited and prefaced by several leading Scottish Presbyterian divines, including Thomas M'Crie, William Cunningham, Robert Candlish and William Symington, who had, in 1834, published his own major work titled On the Atonement and Intercession of Jesus Christ. William Hetherington, another noted Scottish divine, in 1846, endorsed the work in the Free Church Magazine

In 1803, William Gibson wrote A Dialogue Concerning the Doctrine of the Atonement, Between a Calvinist and a Hopkinsian. Jacob Jones Janeway's Letters on the Atonement were published in 1827.

These and other works on the atonement can be found here. Check out this page,these writers and these works to better understand this important doctrine. 

Cane of Orthodoxy

Missionaries from Princeton were actively working in Hawaii in the early 19th century. A chief of the Sandwich Islands (as Hawaii was then known) sent a gift to Princeton, a cane or walking-stick carved from whalebone, by way of one of those missionaries in the 1820's with instructions to "present it to your chief," that is, Dr. Archibald Alexander. 

It was a treasured memento, which Alexander, on his death bed, bequeathed to Dr. Charles Hodge, who recorded the event afterwards thus: "He then, with a smile, handed me a white bone walking-stick, carved and presented to him by one of the chiefs of the Sandwich islands, and said, 'You must leave this to your successor in office, that it may be handed down as a kind of symbol of orthodoxy'" (J.W. Alexander, Life of Archibald Alexander, pp. 605-606).

The cane was passed "metaphorically" to A.A. Hodge by Charles and the Princeton trustees in 1878 when A.A. Hodge was appointed as his father's successor. It was again "symbolically" passed on to B.B. Warfield upon the death of A.A. Hodge in 1886 (Paul C. Gutjahr, Charles Hodge: Guardian of American Orthodoxy, pp. 378-380).

Today the cane resides in the Special Collections Department of the Princeton Theological Seminary library as a "kind of symbol of orthodoxy."