I first read this article in Table Talk magazine in 1992. The author, Russ Pulliam, is my Elder and faithful friend at Second Reformed Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana. This article reveals the level of importance that we need to place upon our availability and accessibility in the lives of our children. I have known Russ for about 30 years now and I am watching him perform at the same level and with the same results that Dr. Charles Hodge did. I pray this article will benefit you as it did me and all those whom I have shared it with these past many years.
The Legacy of Faithful Parents
by Russ Pulliam
Jacob blessing the sons of Isaac, by Rembrandt, Superstock, NY
He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which He commanded our forefathers to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children.
A HARD TEST OF A father’s Christian faith is his capacity to pass it on to his children. It is a test that challenges any Christian and drives fathers and mothers to the Scriptures and prayer. Further wisdom is available through the pages of Christian history. How did some parents prepare their children for service to Christ’s kingdom? Where did others seem to fall short and why, and how?
In the nineteenth century, several influential theologians and church leaders were also influential fathers. Their example provides a perspective for parents who want to learn from the success of others.
In the United States, Charles Hodge (1797–1878) is well known as a theologian, the dominant teacher at Princeton Theological Seminary and author of a three-volume systematic theology. He was involved in the training of an estimated 3,000 pastors, but he should also be famous as a father and grandfather.
His two sons, Archibald Alexander Hodge and Caspar Wistar Hodge, followed in their father’s footsteps at Princeton Theological Seminary. Archibald first served as a missionary in India, then a pastor and teacher in the United States. Near the end of his father’s life, he joined the Princeton faculty, succeeding his father when he died. He also was the author of Outlines of Theology, which is still being published. The other son, Caspar Wistar Hodge, served as a pastor for several years before joining the Princeton faculty.
From the second son’s marriage came a grandson and third-generation teacher at the seminary, also named Caspar Wistar Hodge. All three generations shared the same basic orthodox Christian faith, based on the authority of the Scriptures, in a time of intense pressure to shift into modernism or theological liberalism.
Charles Hodge, Princeton University Archives.
Charles Hodges’ own personal walk with the Lord must have been a crucial factor in the lives of his children, as well as his careful attentiveness to them. His story, told by his son, Archibald, in The Life of Charles Hodge, reveals the flexibility that his father developed: “They were at every age and at all times allowed free access to him. If they were sick, he nursed them. If they were well, he played with them. If he were busy, they played about him.”
Another important nineteenth century American theologian was Augustus H. Strong (1836–1921), author of Systematic Theology and president of Rochester Theological Seminary. There is some contrast between Strong and Hodge, in their intellectual development and perhaps in their attentiveness to their children. Yet Strong, a Baptist, and Hodge, a Presbyterian, would agree on so many of the classical Christian doctrines.
In the 1880s and 1890s, however, Strong wrestled with modernist views of relativism which had undermined much Christian scholarship in that era. To an extent, Strong accepted it yet retained some conviction about the truth of the Christian faith. As a result, both fundamentalists and modernists claimed Strong as one of their own. Which was he? Probably some of both.
Was he able to pass his faith on to his children? Yes and no. One son, John, was an evangelical theologian, like his father, and was not allowed to succeed his father as president of Rochester Theological Seminary. The modernists had control of the seminary by the time his father had retired. Yet many of those modernists had been appointed by his father.
Another son, Charles Augustus Strong, a teacher of psychology at Columbia University, repudiated the Christian faith, and wrote A Creed for Skeptics. In his autobiography, A. H. Strong suggests that he reacted too much to the philosophy his son learned at Harvard. But could the content of the Harvard education have been the problem? One of Strong’s grandsons, Richard Sewell, remembers that his grandfather did not have time to spend talking to children. Perhaps the open study door for his young children was missing, or at least was not as open as the door to the study of Charles Hodge.
With respect to doctrine, did A. H. Strong play with the modernistic spirit a little, only to see one son carry that indulgence to an extreme? As seminary president, Strong practiced a kind of theological pluralism, appointing both modernists to the faculty, as well as evangelical teachers.
What we tolerate a little bit of in our lives, our children may carry to an excess. King David indulged in some polygamy, then his son Solomon had 700 wives, with devastating consequences. Can we see a warning about sins we tolerate? And can we see the importance of opening the door of our study, or business, or mission, to our children and grandchildren? If the door is shut, or we are too busy, the children may turn to other influences.
Across the ocean in Scotland, William Symington (1795–1862), was a pastor in the Reformed Presbyterian Church. Symington and his wife taught their seven children at home. “The evenings are devoted to family reading,” he wrote. “Besides, I give the children a part of every forenoon and afternoon. Now that I have got into it, I do not dislike teaching them.” Why did his children continue in the Christian faith of the father? His willingness to teach his own children may have been a factor, like the open door to the study of Charles Hodge.
Contrast this with J. C. Ryle (1816–1900), bishop of Liverpool, a leading evangelical in the Church of England. Ryle’s son Herbert did not abandon all faith in Christ or openly reject Christ. But he accepted much of the liberal modernist thinking of his time. Higher criticism appeared to be more progressive, more respectable, compared to traditional belief in the trustworthiness of Scripture.
Why did he part company with his father over the authority of Scripture? Turning the education of the children over to others, far away from home at boarding school, may have played some part. “Poor little Herbert cried most bitterly at parting,” Ryle wrote after he put Herbert on the train to boarding school at the age of 9. “Herbert’s life … has been so easy and happy hitherto that he naturally feels this first wrench. And he has been so accustomed to look up to me and be always with me … that the separation strikes him more. It is sad work, and nothing but the sense of positive duty and the wisdom of it would make me go through it.”
What about fathers and daughters? Lyman Beecher and his daughter, Harriet Beecher Stowe, offer a family history worthy of study. Her novels reveal a clear Christian worldview and grasp of vital Christian character qualities, such as her depiction of the cynicism of Aaron Burr contrasted with the Christian faith of other characters in The Minister’s Wooing. Her most famous novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, was a major inspiration in the movement to abolish slavery.
Charles Hodge, Princeton University Archives.
What can we as parents, potential parents, or as grandparents learn from these family histories?
1) CONSISTENCY—at least one parent in these families had a consistent and faithful walk with the Lord. The parents were growing and changing Christians, based on regular, daily personal Bible study and prayer.
2) PRAYER IS SO CRUCIAL—we need a consistent time in prayer for the children, for the church, for the advancement of Christ’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. St. Augustine’s mother, Monica, is famous for her prayers for her son. But a pattern of parental prayer reveals itself in so many of the biographies of Christians who were prepared well for kingdom service by their parents.
3) A GOOD AND GROWING relationship to the local church also has been used by God in the lives of the children over the long run. An indifference to the church, in contrast, must send a wrong message on to subsequent generations.
4) PSALM-SINGING WAS A part of the family worship in several of these families. You cannot measure the impact of singing God’s Word over the years, especially the early years of a person’s life (see Isaiah 55:11).
5) THE OPEN DOOR that Charles Hodge kept in his study for his children suggests the attentiveness our children need. The point is to provide concentrated time with our children, reading to them, talking with them, being especially attentive to the development of their minds and hearts.
The purpose of this kind of research is not to point a finger of judgment across the generations. But the lesson is to discern what has worked well, through the Scriptures, as well as through people who have sought to apply the Scriptures in passing their faith on to the next generation.
And who is equal to such a task?
Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves; our competence comes from God (see 2 Corinthians 2:16; 3:5). ▲
In The Life of Charles Hodge, his son, Archibald Alexander Hodge recalls his father’s open-door policy in his study, allowing easy access for children and grandchildren and providing a vivid example of Deuteronomy 6:5–9.
“His study had two doors, one opening outward toward the seminary for the convenience of the students, and a second one opening inward into the main hall of the home. Hence his study was always the family thoroughfare, through which the children, boys and girls, young and old, and after them the grandchildren, went in and out for work and play. When he was too lame to open the door, and afterward when he was too busy to be interrupted by that action, he took the latch from the doors and caused them to swing in obedience to gentle springs, so that the least child might toddle in at will unhindered. He prayed for us all at family prayers, and singly, and taught us to pray at his knees with such soul-felt tenderness, that however bad we were our hearts melted to his touch.” ▲
 Pulliam, R. (1992). The Legacy of Faithful Parents. In R. F. Ingram (Ed.), Tabletalk Magazine, July 1992: The Covenant Family (R. F. Ingram, Ed.) (7–9). Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries.