Book Review
The Life of Charles Hodge

The Life of Charles Hodge

by his son A. A. Hodge
First published 1880
Banner of Truth 2010
655 pages

Don’t let the length of this book deter you. The first 39 pages themselves are worth the whole volume. They are an autobiography, and contain the most wonderful stories about both ordinary and exemplary lives. There are stories here about Charles Hodge’s family, his parents who lived through the revolutionary war, his brothers and sisters, Aunt Hannah, and his education. We readers can become immersed in their lives as they were lived in early 19th Century America.

Consider this about his second school, in Philadelphia:

My next school was taught by an Irish gentleman named Taylor. … He lived in perpetual sunshine, always happy and always amiable. … His favorite method of teaching was to get a half a dozen boys around him before a large wall map of England, France, Italy, or some other country, pointing out its rivers, mountains, cities and its ancient ruins, descanting [commenting at length, discoursing] on the elements of its population … mixing up geography, antiquities, history and statistics. He would linger around the battle-fields. … He was an enthusiast, and infected his pupils with his spirit. …

Think also about his more important teaching. His mother was a widow from the time of Charles’ infancy, his physician father having succumbed to the risks of his profession while treating cases of yellow fever:

Our early training was religious. Our mother was a Christian. She took us regularly to church, and carefully drilled us in the Westminster Catechism … There has never been anything remarkable in my religious experience, unless it be that it began very early. I think that in my childhood I came nearer to conforming to the apostle’s injunction, ‘Pray without ceasing’, than in any other period of my life …

This autobiography section, covering his life to about 1815, age 17, thoroughly captivated me. It is like sitting by a fire with the great man himself. There is so much there I wish I could quote for you, including stories about revival and “personal religion” and even romance. The diary sections about his study in Europe, 1826-28, are also enchanting.

His early life absorbed, you might want to read on about the rest of his life. Charles Hodge became an influential professor in Princeton Seminary. His legacy is still with us in the evangelical Presbyterian churches. It is in his books, for example, his three volume Systematic Theology, written 1871-73; his 2 Volume The Constitutional History of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, 1839-40; and his commentaries on Romans, 1835, 19th edition 1880, Corinthians, 1857 and 1859, and Ephesians, 1856 remain in print and use.

Dean Brown