Charles Hodge the Pillar of Princeton

Charles Hodge was born in Philadelphia, USA, on December 28, 1797, as the last of five children, only two of which survived infancy.

Those who adhere to the Reformed tradition have described Hodge as “the leading American theologian of the 19th century”.

When Hodge was six months old his father died, leaving the mother to raise the two surviving sons on her own. She was a devout Christian and taught her sons the Westminster Catechism. This produced in Charles a confidence that God cared about him and was attentive to his prayers, which he offered continually, over just about ever detail of his life.

Charles Hodge was educated at the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University), commencing when he was 14 years of age. When revival struck the college in 1814-15 Hodge made a public profession of faith and joined the Presbyterian Church of Princeton on January 13, 1815.

He then studied at Princeton Theological Seminary, in its fourth year. Princeton’s President, Archibald Alexander asked 22 year old Hodge if he would like to be a seminary professor. He went home to study Hebrew and followed the course set for him by Alexander.

Aware of his own shortcomings, Hodge spent two years in Europe, apart from his bride and two children, whom he left with his mother. He studied in Paris, then in Halle, Germany. During this time he met many significant people and enjoyed impressive experiences, such as seeing the Alps and being “overwhelmed” for the first time in his life.

His son, aged five when Hodge returned home, could not trace an earlier memory of his father than that joyful day of his return.

And so, in time, Hodge became a lecturer at Princeton and then Professor of Theology. He spent more than half a century instructing generations of preachers, grounding their theology, exemplifying contented Christianity and giving them a love for Biblical truth. On April 24, 1872 his fifty years of Professorship were celebrated with high praise being poured on this life of consistent and diligent commitment.

“Hodge unswervingly defended a supernaturally inspired Bible”, and this emphasis was carried through by the 3,000 students who passed under his ministry (Dictionary of the Christian Church, page 473).

His commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (1835) is still regarded as a classic work, and has been reprinted by “Banner of Truth”.

In 1822 he married Sarah Bache, great-granddaughter of Benjamin Franklin. Eight children were born, including Archibald Alexander, who likewise became a theological professor. Son Casper also taught at Princeton. Sarah died in 1849, and Hodge remarried a widow, Mary Stockton, three years later. She had been like a sister to Sarah and was much loved by the whole family.

He founded and edited the prestigious journal, The Princeton Review, in which he found time to attack the liberal German theology, and Charles Finney’s revivalism.

On the other hand he defended slavery, though not the cruelty often meted out to these poor fellow Americans.

Along with his academic duties and his pastorate Hodge found time for other ministerial appointments. In May, 1846, he was elected Moderator of the Presbyterian Church.

Hodge displayed a steady, possibly dogged commitment to routine. He sat in the same chair for his studies for forty years. He daily recorded the temperature and wind direction, and he insisted on buying his clothes from the same store, despite the change of owners through the years. He was not given to change, in practice or theology.

Professor Hodge died in Princeton, New Jersey, on 19 June, 1878.

This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com

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