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CHARLES HODGE: POSTMILLENNIALIST

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by Dennis Swanson (The  Master’s College)

Charles Hodge (1797–1878) has been called, “the most prominent American Presbyterian theologian of the nineteenth century” and was clearly one of the most outstanding theologians that America has ever produced. Mark Noll presents this evaluation of Hodge’s contributions:

“[Archibald] Alexander’s student Charles Hodge (1797-1878) extended this theological viewpoint into a powerful system of thought during his fifty-six years as a Princeton professor. Hodge used the same sources that Alexander had employed to defend the glory of God (instead of the happiness of humanity) as the purpose of life, to affirm the power of the Holy Spirit in salvation (against views of human self-determination), and to champion the Scriptures as the proper fount of theology (against either human religious experience or the dictates of formal reason). Hodge once remarked proudly that there had never been a new idea at Princeton, by which he meant that Princeton intended to pass on Reformed faith as it had been defined in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.”

Hodge firmly believed that the postmillennial scheme was the one taught by the Scriptures. In developing his postmillennial view he was forced to make a marked departure from the theology textbook on which he had been raised, and that he himself continued to re-quire of his students until his own Systematic Theology was produced, Turretin’s Institutio Theologiae Elencticae.

Although Hodge boasted that “nothing new ever originated at Princeton” in the field of eschatology that was not entirely true. François Turretin’s Institutio Theologiae Elencticae which was used as the theology text for nearly 40 years at Princeton, and which Hodge in his own work, “sought faithfully to transmit. . . to latter-day Calvinists in the post-Enlightenment, evangelical American religious world of the mid-nineteenth century,” did not advocate postmillennialism. Turretin was amillennial in his eschatology, having been described as “more of a gloomy amillennialist.” Turretin was convinced that the true believers were to be a small and frequently assailed lot; thus he “cultivated an inner piety and the hope that Christ would soon return to deliver His people from all their miseries.”

However this type of pessimism was unknown to Hodge, and so, “one of the most striking turnabouts — illustrative of the radically different theological worlds or Turretin and Hodge — occurs in Princeton’s (and Hodge’s) departure from Turretin’s eschatological pessimism.”

Hodge’s optimism was built on his view that the gospel is “the power of God” (I Corinthians 1:18). “This verse contains the reason why Christ sent the Apostle to preach, and why he preached the doctrine of the cross, and not human wisdom. That reason is, because the doctrine of the cross alone is effectual for salvation.” Hodge believed that as the Gospel was preached on a wider and wider scale the more effective it would be as God used it to the salvation of souls. In this respect he echoed his friend and contemporary in England, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, who said:

To try to win a soul for Christ by keeping that soul in ignorance of any truth, is contrary to the mind of the Spirit; and to endeavor to save men by mere claptrap, or excitement, or ora-torical display, is as foolish as to hope to hold an angel with bird-lime, or lure a star with music. The best attraction is the gospel in its purity. The weapon with which the Lord conquers men is the truth as it is in Jesus. The gospel will be found equal to every emer-gency; an arrow which can pierce the hardest heart, a balm which will heal the deadliest wound. Preach it, and preach nothing else.

To this Hodge would heartily agree, as this statement shows:

The command of Christ to his Church was to preach the gospel to every creature. Not to the irrational creatures, and not to fallen angels; these two classes are excluded by the na-ture and design of the gospel. Further than this there is no limitation, so far as the present state of existence is concerned. We are commanded to make the offer of salvation through Jesus to every human being on the face of the earth. We have no right to exclude any man; and no man has the right to exclude himself.

This fact is vital in understanding Hodge’s view of eschatology. He viewed the gospel as being ultimately successful in bringing about the conversion of the majority of mankind. In fact he seemed to view his generation as the best suited for the great task of world evangelism, as he stated:

The wonderful success of the work of missions in our day goes to prove the fact contended for [that is the universal proclamation of the gospel and the fruition of its success]. Barriers deemed insurmountable have been removed; hundreds of missionary stations have been established in every part of the world; many thousands of converts have been gathered into churches and hundreds of thousands of children are under Christian instruction; the foundations of idolatry have been undermined; nations lately heathen have become Christian, and are taking part in sending the gospel to those still in darkness; and nothing seems wanting to secure the gathering in of the gentiles, but a revival of the missionary spirit of the apostolic age in the churches of the nineteenth century. [emphasis mine]

This zeal for evangelism and missions was a distinctive mark of Princeton Theology and especially their eschatology. Kennedy states:

Missionary enthusiasm and postmillennial optimism go hand in hand with Hodge. In general, he is quite circumspect in matters eschatological, but he waxes dogmatic in championing postmillennialism (he does not use the word) against premillennialism. Hodge is also stronger than Turretin in condemning chiliasm. The reason for this may be partly that premillennialism was more extreme and more popular in Hodge’s day, and partly that Turretin and the premillennialists shared a pessimism regarding earthly society unknown to the optimistic Hodge.

Again, Hodge’s optimism was in God and His power in the gospel alone, not in any man-made psychological manipulation or marketing contrivance. Commenting on the phrase duvami” Qeou’ (power of God) in Romans 1:16, Hodge states: Most commonly Qeou’ is taken as a genitive of the Author, and the power of God is made to mean power derived from God. There are two things asserted by the gospel, first it is powerful, and secondly that it is from God. . . The nature of the salvation here intended is to be learned from the nature of the gospel. It is deliverance from sin and its punishment, and admission into eternal life and blessedness. This is what no mean’s of man’s devising, no efforts of human wisdom or human power could effect for any human being.

Although accepting the vast majority of the Calvinistic system of Turretin, Charles Hodge rejected the pessimism of his amillennial eschatology for the optimism of his own postmillennial scheme. While some of the difference between the views of the two can be traced to their respective circumstances, it was the theology of Hodge and his exhaustive study of the Scripture which drove him to his eschatological views.

The postmillennialism of Charles Hodge is easily seen in his Systematic Theology. He laid out his outline of the end times as follows:

The common church doctrine is, first that there is to be a second personal, visible, and glorious advent of the Son of God. Secondly, that the events which are to proceed that advent are:

1. The universal diffusion of the Gospel; or, as our Lord expresses it, the ingathering of the elect; this is the vocation of the Christian Church.

2. The conversion of the Jews, which is to be national. As their casting away was national, although a remnant was saved; so their conversion may be national, although some may remain obdurate.

3. The coming of Antichrist.

Thirdly, that the events which are to attend to the second advent are:

1. The resurrection of the dead, of the just and the unjust.

2. The general judgment.

3. The end of the world. And,

4. The consummation of Christ’s kingdom.

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