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A Tribute To Charles Hodge – One of The Greatest Theologians America Has Ever Produced

24 Apr

Series: On This Day in Christian History – April 24

 “A Gifted Mind and Still Greater Heart”

By Mike and Sharon Rusten

(Princeton University Library – Pictured on left)

Charles Hodge was born in Philadelphia on December 27, 1797, and raised by his mother because his father died six months after Charles’s birth. A gifted student, Charles entered the College of New Jersey, later Princeton University, in 1812 at the age of fourteen. As a senior he publicly confessed his faith in Christ during a campus revival, where over half of the student body gave their allegiance to Jesus. After entering Princeton Seminary in 1816, he excelled in his studies and graduated at age twenty-two. A year later he became professor of biblical languages at the school and the seminary’s third professor.

Hodge taught at Princeton Seminary for over fifty years and became America’s leading Reformed theologian of the nineteenth century. His three-volume Systematic Theology remains in print today.

On April 24, 1872, a unique celebration took place in Princeton to honor Charles Hodge for his fifty years of teaching. On that day all the shops in town closed, and people from near and far gathered in the First Presbyterian Church to honor the town’s most distinguished citizen. Present were Charles’ wife, Mary, their eight children, and a large number of grandchildren. Also in attendance were four hundred graduates of the seminary, almost 15 percent of the total alumni of the school. There were presidents and faculty representatives from many other colleges and seminaries as well as officials from virtually every denomination. (1st Presbyterian of Princeton pictured at left – it was built in 1836 and still stands today)

That day Henry Boardman spoke on behalf of the seminary trustees. He pointed out that celebrations for national heroes were not uncommon, but here was “the spontaneous homage paid to a simple teacher of God’s Word and defender of its truth.” Then addressing Dr. Hodge he said:

What honor, beloved Brother, has God put upon you! For fifty years you have been training men to preach the glorious gospel of grace of God to their fellow-sinners. The teacher of teachers, your pupils have become professors in numerous Colleges and Seminaries at home and abroad. Not to speak of one or two thousand pastors, who are exerting an ameliorating influence upon this nation more potent than that of an equal number of men belonging to any other calling, you are helping, through your students, to educate a great body of Christian ministers, not a few of whom are to be employed in laying the foundations of Christianity on pagan lands.

At that time Charles Hodge had personally taught twenty-seven hundred students—no other seminary in the country had even enrolled that many. In his address Boardman pointed out that there were men scattered around the world who honored Hodge for the gifted mind God had given him and who “love him for his still greater heart.”

During the program the seventy-five-year-old Hodge sat on a sofa off to the side of the platform, out of sight of the audience. Almost overcome by emotion after fifteen men had spoken their words of tribute, he came to the lectern to respond: “When I say thank you for all your respect, confidence and love, I am nothing, I am powerless. I can only bow down before you with tearful gratitude, and call on God to bless you, and to reward you a hundred-fold for all your goodness.”

(pictured at left is the altar at the Princeton University Chapel)

That night before retiring, the tired but grateful Hodge summed up the day by writing in his journal: “April 24th. The apex of my life…altogether affording an imposing and most affecting testimony of the unity of faith, and of common love to the same gospel, and to our common God and Savior Jesus Christ.”

Reflection:

Most of us are not gifted teachers like Charles Hodge, but God intends for us to impact the lives of those around us. God placed thousands of students in Hodge’s life. He may place one or two people in your life to disciple. It isn’t the number that matters; it is the faithfulness with which you invest yourself.

“We are telling you about what we ourselves have actually seen and heard, so that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.” – 1 John 1:3

More on Charles Hodge

Charles Hodge [1797-1898], was an American Presbyterian theologian, was ordained in 1821, and taught at Princeton for almost his whole life. In 1825 he founded the Biblical Repository and Princeton Review, and during forty years was its editor, and the principal contributor to its pages. He received the degree of D.D. from Rutgers College in 1834, and that of LL.D. from Washington College, Pennsylvania, in 1864. In 1840 Dr. Hodge was transferred to the chair of didactic theology, retaining still, however, the department of New Testament exegesis, the duties of which he continued to discharge until his death.

“His most important works are his commentaries on Romans (1835), Ephesians (1856), 1 Corinthians (1857), 2 Corinthians (1859), as well as Constitutional History of the Presbyterian Church in the United States (2 vols., 1839-40), Systematic Theology (3 vols., 1871-3), and What is Darwinism? (1874). He was an outstanding defender of Calvinism, and has a claim to be considered one of the best theologians and Bible commentators America has produced.” Charles Hodge was the father of the influential theologian A.A. Hodge.

The Author’s: Mike and Sharon Rusten are not only marriage and business partners; they also share a love for history. Mike studied at Princeton (B.A.), the University of Minnesota (M.A.), Westminster Theological Seminary (M.Div.), Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Th.M.), and New York University (Ph.D.). Sharon studied at Beaver College, Lake Forest College, and the University of Minnesota (B.A.), and together with Mike has attended the American Institute of Holy Land Studies (now Jerusalem University College). The Rustens have two grown children and live in Minnetonka, Minnesota. This article was adapted from the April 24th entry in their fantastic book The One Year Book of Christian History, Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2003.

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