Hello! It has been over a year since I last wrote something. Ouch. It is an expression of the sense of busy-ness of life as a minister over 2022 that I see rarely feel I have the time or the inclination to writing anything. However, it is the end of the year and it seems necessary to post something!
One of the books I enjoyed reading in 2022 was Archibald A. Hodge’s “The Life of Charles Hodge” (Banner of Truth, 2010). Charles, as you may know, was Archibald’s father. For many years I used to get them mixed up in my mind. Undoubtedly A.A.’s account is affected by the love of a son for his father, though it was by no means a shiny hagiography. I was particularly taken by B. B. Warfield’s blunt assessment of Hodge’s exegetical skills, included near the end:
“…in questions of textual criticism he constantly went astray. Hence it was that often texts were quoted to support doctrines of which they did not treat; and a meaning was sometimes extracted from a passage which it was far from bearing. But this affected details only…” (p. 625)
I would have thought that the details were somewhat important. Nevertheless, the book was a joy to read and conveyed a sense of the goodness of Charles’s life and that of those early men who established Princeton Seminary in the first half of the 19th century.
I was particularly taken by a passage from Hodge’s sermon at the re-opening of the renovated chapel in 1874. There he reviewed some of the history of the seminary which was by then in its sixth decade. Speaking of Archibald Alexander and Samuel Miller, the founders, he said:
“They were in the first place eminently holy men. They exerted that indescribable but powerful influence which always emanates from those who live near to God. Their piety was uniform and serene; without taint of enthusiasm or fanaticism. It was also Biblical. Christ was as prominent in their religious experience, in their preaching, and in their writings, as he is in the Bible. Christ’s person, his glory, his righteousness, his love, his presence, his whole sphere of their religious life.
“… It is, in large measure, to this constant holding up of Christ, in the glory of his person and the all-sufficiency of his work, that the hallowed influence of the fathers of this Seminary is to be attributed.
“It often happens, however, that men are very pious without being very good. Their religion expends itself in devotional feelings and services, while the evil passions of their nature remain unsubdued. It was not so with our fathers. They were as good as they were pious. …” (pp586-587)
It is worth pondering that last paragraph which I personally found goes deep in its soul-searching, especially for a minister of the gospel. To be pious is one thing. Piety can do a lot that others see – preaching, evangelising, visiting, counselling, serving. It can be impressive. True goodness is another thing altogether. As Hodge points out, goodness comes when the evil passions are subdued. That can only come with closeness to Christ. Just read the quote again – it’s worth it.
One of the reasons it struck me at the time was that Hodge’s observation seemed so appropriate for our denomination, the EPCEW, at the moment. It is no secret that we have been facing a disciplinary case amongst our number. It has still to run its course, so I won’t comment further on the details. However, it struck me how easy it is for ministers and elders in churches and groups of churches to become so impressed with performance in the ministry. We can easily equate “success” with godliness – “God must be with him!”, we say. (In case of any doubt, I am not against “success”! May God bless!) However, the results, the giftedness, the progress all of that can cause us to take our eyes off what Hodge calls the “goodness” of the men who have high responsibilities before God.
I am not sure what the answer is to that. I guess it begins with the men presently in presbytery – developing a habit of self examination before Christ, developing better opportunities for fellowship within the local church leadership and across the denomination. Better focus on assessing the character of the men coming into the ministry. Regular review of ministers’ and elders’ spiritual health and progress. It is easy to make a list!
However, as we approach the end of the year and prepare for the new, may we all resolve to walk closer to Christ, not just so that we can be pious before others, but that step by step we grow in true goodness.