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Posts Tagged ‘Charles Hodge’

The Board Controversy, 1841-1861

In Charles Hodge, James Henley Thornwell, Old School/New School Division on 26/04/2012 at 10:05

Some of our readers may be aware of the famous debate in 1860 between James Henley Thornwell and Charles Hodge over the matter of church boards and whether such agencies were legitimate church structures.
As it turns out, this debate did not spring up overnight, but had actually been brewing for more than twenty years, basically ever since the 1837 split of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. into its Old School and New School factions.
A recent request for a few articles from that debate prompted some investigation and I’ve been posting the results of that research on this web page:

Jure Divino Presbyterianism and the Board Debates, 1841-1861.

Everything you’d ever want to know and more!

But if you just want a basic introduction to the story, there is an excellent introduction to this debate provided by the Rev. John Bailey Adger in his autobiography.  Adger had written a review of the PCUS General Assembly of 1860 in which these debates played such a central part, and twenty-five pages of his autobiography are spent in review of the debates, under the title of “The Board Controversy”.  I’ve provided a shortened version of that account here.

Adger begins his account with an intriguing comment from Dr. Benjamin Morgan Palmer, stating that this board controversy was a leftover from the Church’s division of 1837 :

The Board Controversy. [pp. 362-387 of My Life and Times, by the Rev. John Bailey Adger.]

Dr. Palmer well remarks that there was left over a “residuary bequest”—”a sort of remainder”—from the original controversy with which the church was rent in 1837-’38 [see Palmer’s Life and Letters of Thornwell, pp. 182-221.] This bequest and remainder was the board controversy. One expression which he uses in relation to this very point is liable to be misunderstood. He says, “During the period, when the church was brought under a species of vassalage to Congregationalism, the great national societies, which usurped her functions, conducted their operations by the agency of boards. The church had become familiar with that mode of action,” etc. No one will deny the influence of Congregationalism upon the Presbyterian Church, especially in those portions of it most contiguous to New England; nor that in the Northwestern wilderness, where the American Education Society and the American Home Mission Society chiefly operated, there was brought about a vassalage of the Presbyterian Church to Congregationalism. Of course, Dr. Palmer did not mean to apply his remark to our church in all its parts and portions. Neither is he to be understood as meaning that our whole church had become familiar with that mode of action in the sense of becoming, in any degree, satisfied with it. The sturdy Scotch-Irish Presbyterians of Pennsylvania, Virginia, Kentucky, and the Carolinas, who constituted the bulk of our Presbyterian Church in those days, had been educated better by their fathers, and could not approve the mixing up of the church with voluntary associations. They tolerated the Plan of Union, but, from the first, they did not like it, and it was influence from such quarters that finally overthrew it. Read the rest of this entry »

Hodge on Ministerial Vows

In Uncategorized on 29/06/2011 at 17:19

The following was reproduced in THE SOUTHERN PRESBYTERIAN JOURNAL  (23 July 1958): 7-10, and was located this afternoon among the Papers of Dr. Frederick W. Evans while searching out a matter for a patron of the Historical Center.

 

The Minister’s Vows And The Confession Of Faith

By Charles Hodge, D.D.

At a recent meeting of our General Assembly [Ed.: This would have been the 98th General Assembly of the PCUS , aka Southern Church] there was considerable discussion about the implications of the minister’s vows as related, to the Westminster Standards. In order to assist in the clarification of thought in the Church we submit an incisive article on this subject written by Dr. Charles Hodge. We give it in an abridged form.

Dr. Charles Hodge is Princeton Seminary’s best known and most influential theologian. He was a prolific writer. His “Systematic Theology” is still used in many Seminaries. For 43 years he was the editor of the Princeton Review. His writings were characterized by clarity in presentation and a complete mastery of his subject. His writings are still relevant because he was preeminently Biblical. It was said, “It is enough for Dr. Hodge to believe a thing to be true that he finds it in the Bible’.”J.R.R.

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Circumstances have recently awakened public attention to this important subject. It is one on which a marked diversity of opinion exists between the two portions into which our Church has been divided: and as in May last a direct proposition was made on the part of one branch of the New School body to our General Assembly for a union between them and the Old School, this original point of difference was brought into view. Not only on the floor of the Assembly was this matter referred to, but it has since been the subject of discussion in the public papers, especially in the South. A passing remark made in the last number of this journal, which we supposed expressed a truth which no man could misunderstand or deny, has given rise to strictures which very clearly prove that great obscurity, in many minds, still overhangs the subject. We either differ very much among ourselves, or we have not yet learned to express our meaning in the same terms. It is high time, therefore, that the question should be renewedly discussed.

We have nothing new to say on the subject.

As long ago as October, 1831, we expressed the views which we still hold, and which in a passing sentence were indicated in our number for July last. Those views have passed unanswered and unheeded, so far as we know, for thirty-six years. How is it that the renewed assertion of them has now called forth almost universal condemnation from the Old School press? They have been censured by men who adopt them, and who in private do not hesitate to admit their correctness. This does not imply any unfairness, or any other form of moral obliquity. It is easily accounted for. The proposition, that the adoption of the Confession of Faith does not imply the adoption of every proposition contained in that Confession, might mean much or little. It might be adopted by the most conservative, and is all that the most radical need claim. Still the proposition is undeniably correct.

The fault of the writer, as the Presbyterian of the West, sensibly remarked, is not in what is said, but in what was left unsaid. This fault would have been a very grave one had the subject of subscription to the Confession been under discussion, and had the above proposition been put forth as the whole rule in regard to it. The remark, however, was merely incidental and illustrative. To show the impossibility of our agreeing on a commentary on the whole Bible, we referred to the fact that there are propositions in the Confession of Faith in which we are not agreed. Does any man deny this? If not, where is the harm of saying it? Are we living in a false show? Are we pre- tending to adopt a principle of subscription, which in fact we neither act on for ourselves, nor dream of enforcing on others? Or are we so little certain of our own ground that we are afraid that our enemies will take advantage of us, and proclaim aloud that we have come over to them.

If we really understand ourselves, and are satisfied of the soundness of our principles, the more out-spoken we are the better; better for our own self-respect, and for the respect and confidence of others towards us. If the Christian public, and especially those who have gone out from us, hear us asserting a principle or rule of subscription which they know we do not adopt, it will be hard for them to believe both in our intelligence and sincerity. The question put to every candidate for ordination in our Church, is in these words: “Do you sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures?” It is plain that a very serious responsibility before God and man is assumed by those who return an affirmative answer to that question. It is something more than ordinary falsehood, if our inward convictions do not correspond with a profession made in presence of the Church, and as the condition of our receiving authority to preach the Gospel. In such a case we lie not only unto man, but unto God; because such professions are of the nature of a vow, that is, a promise or profession made to God.

It is no less plain that the candidate has no right to put his own sense upon the words propounded to him. He has no right to select from all possible meanings which the words may bear, that particular sense which suits his purpose, or which, he thinks, will save his conscience. It is well known that this course has been openly advocated, not only by the Jesuits, but by men of this generation, in this country and in Europe. Read the rest of this entry »