Book Review of “Charles Hodge: A Look at the Life and Witness of the Great Princeton Theologian”

hodge4It is safe to say that the glory days of Reformed theology in the United States were most clearly present at Princeton Seminary. Dr. Robert W. Anderson– in his short biography— provides a look at the great Princeton theologian Charles Hodge.

Hodge was born in 1797 and died in 1878. The book is a summary of Charles Hodge’s life as a family man, his friendships, his afflictions, interests, and some of the Presbyterian controversies of his days. The author depends heavily on Hodge’s son, A.A. Hodge, who wrote a biography of his father in 1880.

Princeton Seminary—today a haven of liberalism—was the academic dwelling place of Dr. Alexander and Dr. Miller, who together with Dr. Hodge formed the “golden age of Old Princeton.” Hodge’s life as a Princeton professor left a deep impression on the Princeton community. In the famous Sabbath Afternoon Conferences, where professors would meet students for prayer and discuss issues related to the Christian life, one student said of Charles Hodge:

Dr. Hodge’s was the voice which all waited to hear…few went away from those consecrated meetings without feeling in their hearts that there was nothing good and pure and noble in Christian character which he who would be a worthy minister of Christ ought not to covet for his own.

Dr. Hodge married the great-granddaughter of Benjamin Franklin. His life was one of beautiful affection for his family. Even though being geographically distant from his family in order to enhance his theological training, Hodge maintained a deep relationship with all his children and his wife, Sarah Bache. His letters are filled with deep intimacy and affection.

Hodge’s abilities as a theologian never led him to undermine Scriptural authority, as was so common in his day. His critics mocked his commitment to Scriptures. One critic wrote:

It is enough for Dr. Hodge to believe a thing to be true that he finds it in the Bible…Dr. Hodge has never gotten beyond the Bible. It contains every jot and tittle of his theology.

Hodge was so respected that when he died on June 19, 1878, “all the stores in the town were closed and all businesses suspended in token of respect.” This certainly is a taste of the reputation of the godly. Both in life and in death God was praised by this saint.

His famous Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans was written during the most challenging days of his life. Beginning in 1833, Hodge “endured a period of severe physical suffering and confinement resulting from lameness in the thigh of the right leg.” It is thus uniquely appropriate that when Hodge focuses on Paul’s phrase “thorn in the flesh” in his II Corinthians  commentary, he writes that “…even under affliction, the( apostle) was enabled to rejoice in them.” Undoubtedly, Hodge’s “thorn in the flesh” reflected a similar apostolic attitude.

Charles Hodge was the guardian of truth. He rejected any theological innovation that undermined the sufficiency of Christ and His word.  As A.A. Hodge observed concerning his father: “That Christ is what he is set forth in the Scriptures to be, and that the Bible is the infallible word of God were facts inseparable from his personal consciousness.” It is no wonder that Dr. William M. Paxton, preaching at Hodge’s funeral, concluded by saying:

From our heart of hearts we render thanks to that God who made him (Hodge) what he was, and blessed the church with his presence for eighty years.

About Uri Brito

I am the Pastor of Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola, Fl.
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