Old Princeton: Charles Hodge, A Student's Remembrances

The blows of a brother are the best kind.  I thought of that proverb when I read Benjamin B. Warfield's assessment of Charles Hodge as a teacher of exegesis.[1]  Five years after graduating from Princeton, A. A. Hodge, the son of Charles, had written Warfield a request.   Warfield summarized the appeal at the head of his response, "Remembering your request, I shall endeavor to write absolutely impartially the impressions made upon me as a student of your father's exegetical teaching." 

Warfield did what was asked of him.  He began by remembering the way Hodge entered the classroom.  "Infirm as he was, he was not bent by extreme age or infirmity; his carriage was erect and graceful, and his step always firm.  The mantle that hung from his shoulders during the cooler months heightened the effect of graceful movement."  Upon the offering of an appropriate prayer, Hodge would open his "well-thumbed Greek Testament" and begin his lecture.  According to Warfield, Hodge had all of Calvin's sense and flow of the text, which led him to remark, "the analysis of the passage was superb."   

Despite the calm, critical, and argumentative tone of the lecture, now and then Hodge would "lean forward suddenly with tearful, wide-open eyes, to press home a quick-risen inference of the love of God to the lost sinners."  Dr. William Paxton thought similarly in his own reflections, "It was his custom to introduce each lecture with a short prayer, which was so simple, so humble, and so manifestly the expression of a heart in close fellowship with God…"[2]

 However, Warfield was no sycophant.  For example, he wrote that Hodge had "no taste for the technicalities of Exegesis."  Hodge "did not shrink from them in his lectures, indeed; but on such points he was seldom wholly satisfactory."  His discussion of grammar and lexical points had "a sense of second-handedness about them" and he would often choose an indefensible interpretation because of a theological predilection or the weight of a name.  Yes, Hodge was a mere man and according to Warfield, exegesis "was not his forte." 

However, Warfield did not close his letter by merely answering Hodge's request.  He had more to say.  Though Hodge's forte was not exegesis, as an educator, Warfield wrote, "He was in fact my ideal of a teacher."   He had a way of helping young men think.  Hodge's skillful interrogation enabled the student to unfold principles for himself, "thus they were made part of the permanent furniture of his mind" and not something borrowed for occasional use. 

As far as Warfield was concerned, Hodge's ability to make Biblical principles the bone of a student's bone and flesh of his flesh happened when Hodge was teaching systematic theology.  Warfield said of those classes, "I think I had daily examples of perfect teaching" because, in that room, Hodge consecrated every jot of his learning to the Master's cause.  Fair-minded Warfield ended his assessment allowing a bit of emotion to emerge, "Had I never gained another thing at Princeton, I would bless God for permitting me to see this!  O si sic omnes [If only all teachers were like this]!"

[1] You may find this article in volume 1 of Warfield's Shorter Writings  (P&R, 2005) or in A. A. Hodges biography of his father (Banner of Truth, 2010)

[2] Dr. Paxton remembrances can also be found in Hodges biography.

Jeffrey A. Stivason has been serving the Lord as a minister of the gospel since 1995.  He was church planter and now pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA. He also holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA.  Jeff is the Managing Editor for Place for Truth.

Jeffrey Stivason