Hodge’s Heretical Atonement

The infecting influence of Charles Hodge (1797-1878) permeated Princeton Seminary for about 56 years. During this time “he instructed some 3,000 students” (Dr. Curt Daniel, The History And Theology of Calvinism, p. 108). By Dr. Daniel’s lights, Hodge’s “magnum opus was his Systematic Theology in three large volumes. By common consent among Calvinists, this is the best all-round systematic theology ever written. Because it was more systematic, it excels Calvin’s Institutes as a workable theological reference work, and as such has been the basic textbook to thousands of seminarians” (Dr. Curt Daniel, The History And Theology of Calvinism, p. 108). Clearly, the theologian Charles Hodge has had pervasive influence over many seminarians, and then those many seminarians may go on to spread his teaching to others.

Here are some excerpts from Charles Hodge’s “Beman on the Atonement,” in Essays and Reviews. Hodge writes:

“Dr. Beman’s theory, therefore, which denies that the death of Christ had a special reference to his own people, is inconsistent with the plainly revealed facts: 1. That he died in execution of a covenant in which his people were promised to him as his reward, to secure which reward is declared to be his specific and immediate design in laying down his life. 2. That the motive which led to the gift of the Son, and of the Son in dying, was not general benevolence, but the highest conceivable love, love for his sheep and for his friends. 3. That the design of his death was not simply to remove obstacles out of the way of mercy, but actually to secure the salvation of those given to him by the Father; and that it does in fact secure for them the gift of the Holy Ghost, and consequently justification and eternal life. In other words, God, having out of his mere good pleasure elected some to everlasting life, did enter into a covenant of grace to deliver them out of the estate of sin and misery, and to bring them into an estate of salvation by a Redeemer.

The only Redeemer of God’s elect is the Lord Jesus Christ, who, being the eternal Son of God, became man, was made under the law, satisfied by his obedience and death all its demands, and thus fulfilled the conditions of that covenant on which the salvation of his people was suspended, and thereby acquired a right to them as his stipulated reward. Such was the specific design and certain effect of his death. This is the plain doctrine of our standards, and, as we fully believe, of the word of God” (Charles Hodge).

In reference to Christ’s atonement, Hodge used the phrase “…not simply to remove obstacles out of the way of mercy.” What does “not simply” mean to Hodge? Does Hodge mean to imply that Christ’s atonement DID remove “obstacles out of the way of mercy” for every sinner without exception? Let’s read further.

Charles Hodge, anticipating an objection, writes:

“It will, however, doubtless be asked, admitting that our doctrine of the atonement does accord with the facts above-mentioned, can it be reconciled with the no less certain facts that the gospel is to be freely offered to all men, and that those who reject it are justly condemned for their unbelief? If it cannot, it must be defective. On this score, however, we feel no difficulty. Our doctrine, is, that the Lord Jesus Christ, in order to secure the salvation of his people, and with a specific view to that end, fulfilled the conditions of the law or covenant under which they and all mankind were placed. Those conditions were, perfect obedience and satisfaction to divine justice, by bearing the penalty threatened against sin. Christ’s righteousness, therefore, consists in his obedience and death. That righteousness is precisely what the law demands of every sinner, in order to his justification before God. It is, therefore, in its nature adapted to all sinners who are under that law.

Its nature is not altered by the fact that it was wrought out for a portion only of such sinners, or that it is secured to them by the covenant between the Father and the Son. What is necessary for the salvation of one man is necessary for the salvation of another, and of all. The righteousness of Christ, therefore, consisting in the obedience and death demanded by the law under which all men are placed, is adapted to all men. It is also of infinite value, being the righteousness of the eternal Son of God, and therefore sufficient for all.

On these two grounds, its adaptation to all and its sufficiency for all, rests the offer made in the gospel to all. With this its design we have nothing to do; who are to be saved by it we do not know. It is of such a nature and value, that whosoever accepts of it shall be saved. If one of the non-elect should believe (though the hypothesis is on various accounts unreasonable), to him that righteousness would be imputed to his salvation. And if one of the elect should not believe, or having believed should apostatize, he would certainly perish” (Charles Hodge).

Presumably, “If one of the non-elect should believe” they would not be non-elect, but elect. And “if one of the elect should not believe” he would not be elect, but non-elect. But notice where Charles Hodge is going with these suppositions. He desires to posit an atonement NOT conditioned on Jesus Christ, but conditioned on the sinner. Thus, the difference between the elect and non-elect is NOT the everlasting righteousness established by the Son of God, but the self-righteousness established by the sinner (cf. Romans 10:1-4).

“These suppositions are made simply to show that, according to our doctrine, the reason why any man perishes is not that there is no righteousness provided suitable and adequate to his case, or that it is not freely offered to all that hear the gospel, but simply because he wilfully rejects the proffered salvation” (Charles Hodge).

Here Charles Hodge states his reasons for the hypothetical scenarios described earlier. So, for Hodge, there IS a righteousness provided that is “suitable and adequate” to the case of those such as Pharaoh, Esau, Judas, etc.

“Our doctrine, therefore, provides for the universal offer of the gospel, and for the righteous condemnation of unbelievers, as thoroughly as Dr. Beman’s. It opens the door for mercy, as far as legal obstructions are concerned, as fully as his: while it meets all the other revealed facts of the case. It is not a theory for one fact. It includes them all; the fact that Christ died by covenant for his own people, that love for his own sheep led him to lay down his life, that his death renders their salvation absolutely certain, that it opens the way for the offer of salvation to all men, and shows the justice of the condemnation of unbelief. No man perishes for the want of an atonement, is the doctrine of the Synod of Dort; it is also our doctrine” (Charles Hodge).

Recall Hodge’s initial comment about Beman’s theory of the atonement:

“Dr. Beman’s theory, therefore, which denies that the death of Christ had a special reference to his own people, is inconsistent with the plainly revealed facts” (Charles Hodge).

Charles Hodge enunciates quite well his ultimate agreement with Dr. Beman. “No man perishes for the want of an atonement” is the doctrine of antichrist. The doctrine of antichrist places the sinner’s efforts IN THE PLACE AND STEAD OF CHRIST’S EFFORTS. For IF no man perishes for want of an atonement, THEN, logically, there IS an atonement for those who receive eternal damnation. Thus according to this scheme, the work of Jesus Christ is NOT what makes the difference between salvation and damnation. Instead, it is the effort of the sinner that makes the difference. Charles Hodge — a Genuine Historical Calvinist, no less — is one of MANY antichrists who oppose Christ in the guise of glorifying Christ.

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