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

Richard Baxter Preaches with the Puritans

Richard Baxter was born on November 12, in 1615. The place was Shropshire, England.

Born to parents who had little regard for education, Baxter was largely self-educated, suffered with various bodily infirmities, and knew the reality of persecution in his lifetime … but nevertheless he was to become “one of the foremost Puritan spokesmen within the Church of England”.

Richard Baxter has been described as “one of the most successful preachers and pastors of the Christian church” (Who was Who in Church History, by E. Moyer).

During his education at a free school and then the royal court he became disgusted at the frivolity he saw around him. He left to study divinity and was ordained into the Church of England ministry at age 23. There he found common ground with the Puritans, who at that time were a faction within the church who opposed the church’s form of government. The Puritan movement was at that time splintering into factions.

Baxter did his best to avoid the disputes between Anglicans, Congregationalists, Presbyterians and other denominations, promoting cooperation between local ministers where he could. He was fond of saying, “In necessary things, unity; in doubtful things, liberty; in all things, charity”.

However Baxter held strong personal convictions, even being opinionated in his theology.

Ordained by the Presbyterian Church, he served as minister at Kidderminster from 1641 until 1660. But “The Act of Uniformity” of 1662 put an end to his official ministry. This Act demanded that every clergyman must give “unfeigned consent and assent” to the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, and accept ordination by a bishop, among other issues.

Suffice to say Baxter – and something like 2000 others – refused to bow the knee to this attack on religious freedom and were ousted from their parishes. He stood for liberty of conscience in worship and church government. And it cost him his freedom. Twice, in 1685 and again in 1686, he was imprisoned for continuing to preach although ‘unlicensed’ to do so – this latter time for two years.

He penned over 160 books – many of them best sellers in his day, and some still being re-printed more than 400 years later … and he had 60 written against him! (Heroes of the Faith, by F. Ballard, page 24).

Because of his moderate stand he became a peacemaker during the English Civil Wars, believing in the monarchy but wanting their powers limited. He was chaplain to the Parliamentary army, but then helped to restore the King.

Several classics came from his pen. The Saints’ Everlasting Rest was one of the most widely read books of the century. A Call to the Unconverted later influenced the young Spurgeon, as he tells us in his autobiography. Reformed Liturgy was written in a mere two weeks in response to a question about what deviations should be permitted from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. His Christian Directory contains over one million words. The Reformed Pastor is his autobiography and his pastoral guide, and is still widely read today.

Theologically Baxter is described as, wait for it, Latitudinarian! He saw society as a large family under a loving father, and in his theology, he tried to balance the extremes. He eventually registered himself as “a mere Nonconformist“, which was a technical term for those who were “not Anglican”. He broke with the Church of England mainly due to disempowerment of parish clergy.

One of his most famous sayings bears repeating – “I preached as never sure to preach again, and as a dying man pleading with dying men.”

On 8 December, 1691, Richard Baxter went home to “the Saints’ Everlasting Rest”.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.

Samuel Davies Preaches His Own Funeral

Samuel Davies was born in Delaware, USA, on November 3, 1723.

His Welsh parents were deeply religious. Davies later said, ‘I am a son of prayer, like my namesake, Samuel the prophet, and my mother called me Samuel, because, she said, I have asked him of the Lord’.

Converted at the age of 12 he was admitted to the Presbyterian church at age 15.

When the Rev Samuel Blair opened his famous school at Fagg’s Manor, Pennsylvania, Samuel Davies was put under him and there completed his formal education. Rev Blair was an outstanding preacher and years later Davies, having heard preachers on the continent as well as in the USA he declared that none could compare with his old schoolmaster Blair.

He was ordained by the Presbyterians and became one of their outstanding evangelists. The year of his ordination, 1747, his wife of one year died. Bereaved and weak he thought he was going to die, so he determined to preach with as much effect as possible so he could have treasures in heaven.

One of Davies’ friends wrote of him, ‘’Finding himself upon the borders of the grave, and without any hopes of a recovery, he determined to spend the little remains of an almost exhausted life, as he apprehended it, in endeavouring to advance his Master’s glory in the good of souls; and as he told me — he preached in the day, and had his hectic by night and to such a degree as to be sometimes delirious’.

He did recover and a year after the death of his wife he married Jean Holt who bore him three sons and two daughters.

He took up a very effective pastorate in Hanover County, Virginia, where 150 families invited him to come. This placement proved to be very successful. At first he preached at five meeting houses, and then seven in six counties, and later as many as fourteen separate meeting places over which he had charge. Some of these were more than 30 miles from one another. Like Whitefield and Wesley, he read while riding on horseback from one charge to another, being all alone in that vast wilderness.

One preaching house accommodated 500 people, but at times the meetings had to be held outdoors to accommodate the crowds.

We are told “his ministerial dignity and solemn demeanour inspired awe. Numbers flocked to hear a man … who preached the solemn truths of the gospel in a style that arrested their attention and impressed their hearts” (Cyclopaedia of Religious Biographies, page 155).

He visited England with fellow preacher, Gilbert Tennent, and his preaching was so outstanding that King George II heard him preach by royal invitation.

He was one of the preachers used by God in the Great Awakening, which resulted in the conversion of multitudes. He led many negroes to faith, teaching them to read and giving them books which were sent to him by supporters in England. His effectiveness in winning souls was exemplary.

Back in America Samuel Davies followed Jonathan Edwards to the presidency of “The College of New Jersey”, later to become Princeton University.

Early the following year he preached on “This year thou shalt die” (Jeremiah 28:16). He preached to the Princeton students saying, ‘And it is not only possible, but highly probable, death may meet some of us within the compass of this year. Perhaps I may die this year’. One month later (4 February, 1761) he was called home, so he effectively preached his own funeral service. He was just 36 years old.

His great hymn is still sung today:
Great God of wonders! All Thy ways are matchless, Godlike and divine;
But the fair glories of Thy grace more Godlike and unrivalled shine:
Who is a pardoning God like Thee? Or who has grace so rich and free?

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.

Cleland Boyd McAfee Presbyterian Leader and Hymn Writer

This is the day that … Cleland Boyd McAfee was born in Montana, USA, in 1866.

The son of a minister, Cleland pursued ministry, as did his brothers and other relatives, and rose to the pinnacle of the American Presbyterian Church which he served. His life was spent in the pulpit, the class and the study. Four others in his generation with ministers as well.

At the age of thirty-five, whilst pastoring the First Presbyterian Church in Chicago, Illinois, he wrote a hymn, words and music. He received news that two nieces had died from diphtheria. Grieving from the loss, he turned to the words of the Psalmist. As he read the scriptures, he was inspired to write the words and the tune to “Near to the Heart of God.” “the choir learned it on the Saturday night,” his daughter later recorded – and they went to the McAfee home and sang it under the stars outside the quarantined house …”

And the hymn?

There is a place of quiet rest, near to the heart of God,
A place where sin cannot molest, near to the heart of God…

The first public performance of the hymn was at the girls’ funeral. The hymn became popular immediately and spread quickly.

McAfee married Canadian born Harriet and together they produced three daughters, Ruth, Catherine and Mildred. Thus his desire to have the family name continued was defeated.

Cleland B. McAfee is described as “an eminent theologian, a brilliant speaker, author of numerous books, and honoured by his denomination to serve as Moderator of the General Assembly … yet today, Dr McAfee is best remembered for this one simple, unassuming, devotional hymn” (101 More Hymn Stories, by K. Osbeck).

McAfee lived on the Seminary Campus and maintained a genuine pastoral rapport with his students. As moderator he had a keen sense of when to lower the boom on the fundamentalist controversy.

His books are freely available as e-books from many sites on the internet, revealing a studious mind and an excellent communicator.

Dr McAfee died on 4 February, 1944.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.

William Holmes McGuffey Teaches Morals to a Nation

This is the day that …William Holmes McGuffey was born in Pennsylvania, USA, in 1800.

Much of his early schooling came from his mother – he “irregularly attended rural schools” – but eventually he was to become president of Ohio University (1839-1843). His mother prayed that he would become a preacher, which he most certainly did, although the fact pales against his greater claim to fame.

An intelligent lad, keen to be well educated, he was taught Latin by a minister and entered a life of academics. Professors were expected to preach and McGuffey prided himself in not needing notes to achieve that end. He had actually been licensed to preach by the Presbyterian Church (1829), but never accepted a pastorate.

“He took pride in the fact that he spoke extemporaneously, later declaring he had preached more than 3000 sermons without a single note…” (Dictionary of Christianity in America, page 688).

McGuffey always told his students that country preaching was the best of training. It was in the country churches that he improved extemporaneous speaking and learned to put his ideas into simple words that even the illiterate could understand.

On one occasion a committee told him they liked his preaching but they thought he was too stylish. He drove a horse and carriage, they said, and wore a silk coat. The suave professor showed them that his “silk coat” was made of cheap shiny bombazine. He further explained that he needed his horse and carriage so his wife could attend church with him. The committee retired ashamed.

At Oxford he met and married the beautiful Harriet Spining (April 3, 1827). She gave birth to two sons and two daughters, but both sons died early. When she died in 1850, McGuffy married again, to Laura Howard, who bore him one son who died at the age of four.

His fame lies in the famous “Readers” he published (from 1836-1857) “which sold an astronomical 122 million copies (!!), and helped shape the 19th century American Mind.”

These “Readers” were used in public schools and majored on “industry, honesty and loyalty; as well as warning against strong drink.” This extemporaneous preacher taught Christian morals to a whole nation through his written works.

McGuffey died at Charlottesville, May 4, 1873, and is buried there.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.