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Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company has recently published an abridged edition of Presbyterian theologian Charles Hodge’s three-volume Systematic Theology: Systematic Theology (Abridged Edition), ed. Edward N. Gross (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1997), 585 pages, $22.99 (paper).

Professor Gross’ use of Charles Hodge’s Systematic Theology in teaching and his love of the theology that it contains have helped him skillfully to abridge the original three volumes in one thick book. The abridged edition retains the essence of Hodge’s theology, from introduction to eschatology. In addition to shortening the exposition that is retained, the editor has in the main left out the passages that demand “scholarly exegetical analysis of the reader”; the sections of historical theology; much of the polemics; and all the quotations in foreign languages. Sections of the original that are omitted are indicated by referring to them in the appropriate place in the text within brackets. The numbering of parts, chapters, and sections correspond to the three-volume original so that the reader can readily check the abridgment against the original.

This work will be helpful to the pastor, as well as to the reading layman, both in familiarizing himself with the enormously influential theology of Charles Hodge (and 19th century Princeton Seminary) and in instructing himself in the fundamentals of the Reformed faith.

The book includes a subject index, a Scripture index, and study questions for each chapter.

It is painfully evident that the theology of Charles Hodge is a compromised theology.

Hodge’s theology contains two heresies that are fatal to Reformed Christianity. They have already destroyed the Presbyterian Church in which Hodge was a professor of theology. One is the accommodation of Scripture to the attack by evolutionary science on the biblical doctrine of creation. Occurring ominously in a passage in which Hodge extols the place and power of reason in religion is a warning to the theologians that “it is unwise … to array themselves needlessly against the teachings of science.” Hodge continues: “let science take its course, assured that the Scriptures will accommodate themselves to all well-authenticated scientific facts in time to come, as they have in the past” (p. 59).

What Hodge has in mind becomes clear in the chapter on creation. Admitting that belief of God’s creation of the world in six days is “the more obvious interpretation of the first chapter of Genesis” and that this has been “the common belief of Christians,” Hodge, nevertheless, allows for the possibility of what today is called theistic evolution over billions of years: “This interpretation, however, must be controlled not only by the laws of language, but by facts. This is at present an open question. The facts necessary for its decision have not yet been duly authenticated” (emphasis added).

Hodge feels the pressure exerted by the geologists against the biblical revelation of creation. The only way to accommodate Scripture to these scientists is to give up the days of Genesis 1. Hodge is forced to recognize that “taking this account (Gen. 1—DJE) by itself, it would be most natural to understand the word (‘day’—DJE) in its ordinary sense.” Then he adds:

but if that sense brings the Mosaic account into conflict with facts, and another sense avoids such conflict, then it is obligatory on us to adopt that other. Now it is urged that if the word day be taken in the sense of an indefinite period of time, a sense which it undoubtedly has in other parts of Scripture, there is not only no discrepancy between the Mosaic account of the creation and the assumed facts of geology, but there is a most marvelous coincidence between them.

Hodge’s conclusion is a marvel of desperate boldness and hopeless naiveté:

If it should be proved that the creation was a process continued through countless ages and that the Bible alone of all the books of antiquity recognizes that fact (by Hodge’s changing its “days” into geologic periods and by Hodge’s correcting its testimony that each creature was called into existence “after his kind”—DJE), then the idea of its being of human origin would be utterly refuted (pp. 205-211).

Charles Hodge delivered up the biblical doctrine of creation to the tender mercies of evolutionary science. The result is the idea of the utterly human origin of the Bible in many Presbyterian churches.

The other false doctrine that bedevils Hodge’s theology to the destruction of the Reformed faith is his teaching, in radical contradiction of predestination, that God is gracious to all in the preaching of the gospel. Hodge speaks of this as the offer of the gospel. This necessarily leads Hodge to affirm that in an important respect the death of Christ was for every human without exception. In the chapter entitled, “For Whom Did Christ Die?” Hodge maintains that “the death of Christ had a relation to the whole human family as well. It is the ground on which salvation is offered to every creature under heaven who hears the gospel…. There is a sense, therefore, in which He died for all, and there is a sense in which He died for the elect alone” (pp. 388, 389).

According to Hodge, Presbyterians (called “Augustinians” by Hodge)

do not deny that Christ died for all men. What they deny is that He died equally and with the same design for all men. He died for all that He might arrest the immediate execution of the penalty of the law upon the whole of our apostate race; that He might secure for men the innumerable blessings attending their state on earth, which, in one important sense, is a state of probation; and that He might lay the foundation for the offer of pardon and reconciliation with God on condition of faith and repentance…. This is what is meant when it is said, or implied in Scripture, that Christ gave Himself as a propitiation not for our sins only, but for the sins of the whole world (pp. 392, 393).

In keeping with this doctrine of universal grace grounded in the death of Christ as propitiation for the sins of every human, Hodge teaches that “the covenant of grace is made (by God) with all men,” although it has “special reference to the elect.” Just as is the case with Hodge’s doctrine of universal atonement, the basis of the teaching that God makes His covenant of grace with every human being is Hodge’s notion that God is gracious to all in the preaching of the gospel, that is, “the offer.”

Salvation is offered to all men on the condition of faith in Christ…. In this sense, the covenant of grace is formed with all mankind…. Salvation is offered to all men on the condition of faith in Christ. To that extent the covenant of grace is made with all men. Another crucial fact is that those who, having heard the gospel, refuse to accept that covenant place themselves without its pale (p. 342).

Three things are undeniably true about this theology. First, its universal grace is the grace of salvation, not some non-saving grace, for it is the grace expressed in the gospel; the grace that desires the salvation of all; the grace that has its source in the death of Christ; and the grace that belongs to the covenant of grace. Second, this grace of salvation is resistible, non-efficacious, ineffectual, and frustrated. Third, the entire theory rests on a view of the preaching of the gospel as grace to all who hear.

This doctrine of universal, ineffectual grace in the preaching of the gospel, necessarily grounded in a death of Christ for all without exception, destroyed the Presbyterian Church in which Hodge taught this heresy to thousands of pastors and missionaries. It first opened the church up to open, avowed Arminianism. This happened while Hodge was still living. The end of the process was the falling away of the church to sheer modernism.

Happily, if surprisingly, when Hodge is accounting for the promiscuous preaching of the gospel and its indiscriminate (external) call in light of predestination, he does not have recourse to any such notion of universal grace in the preaching. Hodge asks the question, “Inasmuch as some men are not saved, the question arises, Why should the call be addressed to every one? Or, What is the design of God in making the call of the gospel universal and indiscriminate?” His explanation is:

(1) The most obvious answer is found in the nature of the call itself. The call of the gospel is simply (a) the command of God to men to repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ together with (b) the promise that those who believe shall be saved. It is the revelation of a duty binding upon all men….(2) The general call of the gospel is the means ordained by God to gather in His chosen people…. That only these particular people are made willing to perform the duty binding upon all men does not in any way conflict with the propriety of the universal proclamation. (3) This general call of the gospel with the promise that whoever believes shall be saved serves to show the unreasonable wickedness and perverseness of those who deliberately reject it. The justice of their condemnation is thus rendered the more obvious… (p. 425).

This is the confessional Reformed explanation of the external call of the gospel to the many who are not chosen (Matt. 22:14). There is no mention of grace to the reprobate. The explanation does not contradict and thus overturn predestination. It is evident from this sound explanation that it is possible to preach the gospel to all and to call all to repentance and faith without supposing, or proclaiming, that God loves and desires to save all.

Most of the reputedly conservative Presbyterian and Reformed churches of the present day will condemn this Hodge—the Hodge who accounts for promiscuous preaching without referring to a grace for all in the preaching—as a hyper-Calvinist. The other Hodge—the Hodge of universal, ineffectual grace in the gospel, cross, and covenant—they enthusiastically embrace.

Such is always the result in the churches of a compromised theology.

—DJE