Hodge On The Sufficiency Of Scripture And The Development Of Christian Theology

The anti-protestant principles of Dr. Schaff, as it appears to us, are either included in his theory of development, or are its legitimate consequences. That theory he and Dr. Nevin for a time held in common. But it contains antagonistic principles. When carried out, the one must eliminate the other. And the precise difference between Dr. Nevin and Dr. Schaff, as we conceive, is that the former has given himself up to that element of the system which necessitates a return to Rome; while Dr. Schaff has remained true to that feature of the theory, which enables him to look on Rome as a station long since past, in the onward progress of the Church, to which she can no more return than a man can become a boy. In order, however, to understand this subject, it will be necessary to ascertain what is meant by “development of the Church.” In Dr. Schaff’s exhibition of his doctrine there is much that is true, much that is common presented in new form, and much that is new, anti-scriptural, and anti-protestant. The plausibility of the theory arises, in a great degree, from this large admixture of what every one is ready to admit, with subtle principles which spoil and pervert the whole.
There is a form of the doctrine of development, or of the constant advance of the Church, which we presume all Protestants admit. Their view on this subject we understand to be substantially as follows: 1. Christianity is a system of doctrines supernaturally revealed and now recorded in the Bible. Of that system there can be no development. No new doctrines can be added to those contained in the word of God. No doctrine can ever be unfolded or expanded beyond what is there revealed. The whole revelation is there, and is there as distinctly, as fully, and as clearly as it can ever be made, without a new supernataral revelation. Every question, therefore, as to what is, or what is not Christian doctrine, is simply a question as to what the Bible teaches. There is no analogy, consequently, between theology and other sciences. The materials of theology do not admit of increase. They are all in the Bible. The materials of human science are constantly accumulating, as new facts are brought to light and old assumptions corrected. Theology, therefore, as it existed in the mind of Paul, and is recorded in his writings, is precisely what will be the theology of the last saint who is to live on the earth. Whereas the astronomy of Pythagoras is as different from that of La Place, as the men are widely separated in time.

2. While Christianity, considered as a system of doctrine, is thus complete and unchangeable, the knowledge of that system as it lies in the mind of the individual Christian, or in the Church collectively, is susceptible of progress, and does in fact advance. Every believer, when he first receives the truth, receives it partially, and necessarily mingles it with the previous contents of his mind, which to a greater or less degree perverts and corrupts it. As he grows in grace, he grows in knowledge. The more the Spirit of God leads him into conformity with the truth, the more correct do his apprehensions become, the more is the dross of error removed, and the more fully does he coincide in all his conceptions of divine things with the infallible standard of the word of God. With this increase of knowledge there is connected a corresponding increase of holiness, and of power to influence those around him for good. This is matter of daily experience and observation, and is in accordance with everything taught in the Bible, on the progress of the life of God in the soul. This progress is neither uniform nor constant. In some days, or even hours, the Christian may grow more than in years of ordinary experience. Sometimes his course is backward; he loses ground in knowledge, in faith, in love, in zeal and obedience. From these backslidings he is recalled only by the power of the Holy Ghost. This restoration is commonly effected only through a deeper conviction of sin, and a clearer apprehension and more cordial reception of the truth than he had before experienced. He becomes thus a better man and a more advanced Christian than he was before. It was thus with Peter; and it is thus that the Christian is led from strength to strength until he appears before God. No part of a believer’s life is isolated. As the present is conditioned more or less by the past, so in its turn it conditions the future.

—Charles Hodge, “Review of History of the Apostolic Church; with a General Introduction to Church History by Philip Schaff,” in The Book Reviews of Charles Hodge (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2014).

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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