The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.

XVI. Later Theology

§ 2. Charles Hodge

Yet perhaps disdain is scarcely the word to associate with Charles Hodge. His three huge volumes on Systematic Theology (1873) are found now mostly in public libraries and in the attic chambers of aging parsons. Theology is out of vogue, and his volumes represent a system which is less and less widely held as the years go by. But Charles Hodge had a genuine religious experience. Disdain certainly fades from the lips of any tolerant modern man as he browses in these books. The table of contents is schematical, wooden. The first volume, after an introduction, deals with “Theology Proper,” the second volume is devoted to “Anthropology,” and the third is divided between “Soteriology” and “Eschatology.” But though “Evolution” is in the air—and indeed in the first volume—there is no apologetic explanation of the division. Hodge is not ashamed of the tenets of past ages. He does not write for the public but to the public. But he writes with transparent sincerity. There is no evasion. There is neither condescension nor cringing. There is nothing left at loose ends. There is no sparing of thought. His weighty opponents are fairly treated and his words are devoid of sarcasm—the weapon of conscious and obtrusive superiority. He does not pretend to understand God nor those who seem to him to claim that they do. He only claims to apprehend the Word of God. In his introduction he reaches, on what he regards as rational grounds, the conclusion that the Scriptures are the Word of God and therefore that their teachings are infallible. Thereon he stands unmoved. Approaching the profound subject of the decrees of God, for every Calvinist thrilling in its audacity, he says simply:

  • It must be remembered that theology is not philosophy. It does not assume to discover truth, or to reconcile what it teaches as true with all other truths. Its province is simply to state what God has revealed in His Word and to vindicate those statements, as far as possible, from misconceptions and objections. This limited and humble office of theology it is especially necessary to bear in mind, when we come to speak of the acts and purposes of God. All that is proposed is simply to state what the Spirit has seen fit to reveal on that subject.
  • So he looks without flinching over the vast unsunned spaces to the place of eternal punishment. On the “Duration of Future Punishment” he writes:

  • It is obvious that this is a question which can be decided only by divine revelation. No one can reasonably presume to decide how long the wicked are to suffer for their sins upon any general principles of right and wrong. The conditions of the problem are not within our grasp. What the infinitely wise and good God may see fit to do with His creatures, or what the exigencies of a government, embracing the whole universe and continuing throughout eternal ages, may demand, it is not for such worms of the dust, as we are, to determine. If we believe the Bible to be the Word of God, all we have to do is to ascertain what it teaches on this subject, and humbly submit.… It should constrain us to humility and to silence on this subject that the most solemn and explicit declarations of the everlasting misery of the wicked recorded in the Scriptures, fell from the lips of Him, who, though equal with God, was found in fashion as a man, and humbled Himself unto death, even the death of the cross, for us men and our salvation.
  • There is a strange sublimity and extraordinary perspicuity about the style of Charles Hodge. It is not style at all. He is writing a treatise for students. His sentences are constantly interrupted by 1) 2) 3), A) B) C), and the like. Yet, notwithstanding the nature of the doctrine and the ponderous character of the subject, there are few books which open the mind on the fields of grandeur more frequently than this systematic theology. Its prose is not unworthy of being associated in one’s mind with that of Milton. Out of the depths this man has cried unto God and found Him.