A long time ago, possibly before I made a public profession of faith, I read two books one after the other that made an impression of me at the time. The first was ‘The force of truth’ by Thomas Scott and the second was ‘The Way of Life’ by Charles Hodge. If you have not read the first of those books then I would heartily recommend it and the second was an excellent introduction to Charles Hodge.
Hodge is one of those names that has embedded itself in the Evangelical consciousness. The volumes of his Systematic Theology have been kept in print, he sits as one of the early figures of Princeton and as the father of a dynasty of other Hodge’s that have also put their books onto our shelves.
If you have not read any of Charles Hodge, then this is a pretty good place to start. He is being deliberately popular and evangelical in his approach to presenting some pretty big themes and ideas. At the time, the book was intended for young people and I still think it would make a good gift to a young person who is getting ‘serious’ about religion and trying to understand the way of life.
It starts with the idea that the Scriptures are the Word of God and looks at the evidences both internal and external for making that sort of assertion. The second chapter looks at sin and how important that is in an age which wants to tell people that ‘everything is alright’. The third looks at why people are indifferent to sin. At this point, he then devotes a chapter to the idea of conviction of sin and directs the reader to look beyond themselves to Christ. It then takes time to develop the idea of Justification (an important topic in an evangelical world that is losing sight of some of what that means!) and links it in the following chapter to faith. He then looks at the outcomes of faith in repentance and how that should lead to a public profession of religion. He ends the book by addressing the mistake that is being made by some in the current justification controversies with a very clear statement on the need for Holy Living.
How important it is that we read and re-read this crucial themes and topics – they should be at the centre of our Christian lives and our Christian witness.
In the first chapters, he is clearly writing before any of the Van Tilian school tackled the topics but he is quite clear that ‘no amount of evidence can produce saving faith’ – and important clarification in an age that has publishers in American evangelicalism writing books on that topic which are essentially Sandemanian. For the reader that likes footnotes, he has the biblical texts at the base of each of the pages.
Initially, the title for the book was to the ‘Narrow Way’ but was changed at his publishers insistence. The book clearly posits that for the Christian the Bible is at the centre of what they believe, how they live and what they fall back to rest upon. Hodge grew up in a Christian home, the catechism was like ‘old furniture’ to him and ejaculatory prayer was a habit of his at an early age. When he was converted at university, he would later reflect that his conversion did not mark a stand-alone beginning to the Christian life but was the culmination of the training of his childhood, a faith that had been reinforced by godly instruction, encouragement and support. He viewed it as the capstone event that his life had been leading towards. In this book, he never mentions nurture, he talks about the importance of ‘true religion’ that is a personal faith in Christ that leads to holy living.
At the start of a new year, if you have not read this book before, then do so – it is one that will warm the heart and focus the mind on the great themes of Christian living. It will also introduce you to an important Calvinist theologian whose biography I hope will soon be the subject of another review.