Henry Danhof was a Christian Reformed minister who was put out of the Christian Reformed Church in the early 1920s with Herman Hoeksema and George Ophoff in the common grace controversy. In 1920, Danhof published a booklet on the covenant that was important for the unique development of the biblical truth of the covenant in the Protestant Reformed Churches. Prof. David Engelsma has translated Danhof’s work. The translation appears in the April 1997; November 1997; April 1998; and November 1998 issues of the Protestant Reformed Theological Journal. The excerpt published here defines the covenant as the living friendship of love. It finds the ultimate source of the covenant in the triune life of God Himself. The explanatory footnotes are by the translator.
The covenant rests in the Holy Trinity. God is the God of the covenant. He is such, not only according to the counsel of His will in His relation to the creature, but first of all in Himself, according to His own nature. The divine life in itself is a covenant of friendship among Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. That divine love life is then the basis for every covenant relation between Creator and creature and between the creatures mutually. The absolute covenant conception is hidden in the family life of the Holy Trinity.
No one, therefore, will ever succeed in fathoming the covenant-idea in all its depth. Still, one can see fairly easily that all relation, reciprocal action, and mutual fellowship among Father, Son, and Holy Ghost must necessarily be, happen, and take place according to the nature of the covenant. For God is one in being, but in persons, three. The three persons are all equally possessors of the same divine essence. In their personal substance, they are equal with each other. But in their individual, personal properties, they differ from each other. Their oneness of essence gives harmony. The identical substance of the persons implies agreement. At the same time, in the difference of their individual, personal properties is found the possibility for the highest fellowship and cooperation. The oneness and difference of the persons give eternal, divine harmony. And the love-life of God, welling up out of the unfathomable depths of the essence, and decreed by Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, pours itself forth in the multiplicity of the forms of the individual, personal properties, manifesting in the most glorious hue the full riches of the eternal friendship of the Trinity.
In all the outgoing works of God, something of this covenant of friendship is necessarily revealed outside of God. For even though these outgoing works are free and decreed, they are, nevertheless, works of a self-revealing God. Because the absolute covenant-idea is grounded in God’s own nature and manner of life, all revelation must necessarily be revelation of the God of the covenant, since it can be nothing other than self-revelation of the Trinity. And although we may not suppose that God exhausts Himself in His self-revelation, still we shall certainly have to assume that an impression of the absolute covenant-idea in the Trinity is found in the highest creature, since God created man according to His image.
In my opinion, this covenant-idea in man is not wholly identical with the religious idea. Yet, as man was created according to God’s image immediately at creation and by virtue of this could attain at once to active religious fellowship with His Creator, thus his religion finds its goal in the fellowship of the covenant. Through the band of the covenant, God lets His own absolute covenant life continue to vibrate in the creature, and by the vibrating of that band man echoes the life of God in his life.1 In his most sublime fellowship with the Eternal One, man is friend of God. The covenant causes God and man to dwell together as friends. In this, the covenant-conception is realized fully. Accordingly, in his wonderful vision of the kingdom of glory John saw the tabernacle of God with men.
Man is friend of God. God Himself has conceived him so. That is His will concerning him. Toward the fellowship of friendship with God, he has been directed. In this he finds his destiny. He can truly rest only in the fellowship of friendship with his God. To be sure, as a moral-rational being he can turn into his very opposite and by this become a covenant companion and friend of Satan. But even then, in his formal, covenantal life he still shows his origin, nature, and original destiny. The damned in hell is the complete opposite of the man of God in the kingdom of glory. In the man of God in the kingdom of glory, God’s covenant conception has been fully realized in a positive sense.
According to the measure of his comprehension, the life of the friendship of the Trinity continues to vibrate in him. The God of friendship is known,enjoyed, mirrored, and reflected by him. With his whole heart, with his whole soul, with his whole mind, and with all his powers, he responds to the act of friendship on the part of the Eternal that penetrates, qualifies, arouses, and provokes him. God’s friend is of God, through God, and to God.
In the covenant God finds the most excellent form for the revelation and bestowal of His friendship. The covenant of friendship exalts the reciprocal relationship of life and fellowship between God and man to the highest order and greatest intimacy. In no other relation than that of friend of God would man ever be able in a more perfect way to show forth the praises of Him who called him out of darkness into His marvelous light.
God then has also undoubtedly willed the covenant first of all for His own sake. It serves Him in His highest self-revelation and self-glorification. Since He reveals and glorifies Himself by it as the God of love and friendship and by it exalts man as His own covenant companion and friend, therefore, in my judgment, this divine, sovereign will loses all the apparent lack of feeling and coldness that, according to the impression of some critics, adheres to the sovereignty of God (as that is understood by the Reformed faith), in contrast to the love of God. We may not say, with James Orr (Progress of Dogma, Lect. 9, p. 292), that Calvin “errs in placing his root-idea of God in sovereign will rather than in love. Love is subordinated to sovereignty, instead of sovereignty to love.” For with Calvin we must very really explain the entire creation from a free act of the will of God. Also the covenant, therefore, although grounded in God’s own nature, is no less a fruit of His will. Strictly speaking, the one presupposes the other. Nevertheless, this sovereign will of the God of the covenant is a willing to reveal and glorify the life of the friendship of the triune God. It is, therefore, entirely encircled in the glow of love.2
This will of God includes also the forms of the covenant and, further, all means and ways for the complete realizing of the covenant conception. Also the forms of the covenant are of God. The covenant of works was not replaced by the covenant of grace, but according to God’s ordinance the covenant of God changed from the form of the covenant of works into that of the covenant of grace.3 For God’s sake! It was He, first of all, who willed the deeper way through the fall and rising again of man for the most perfect development of His covenant-conception. His purpose was that the life of the friendship of the Trinity would shine the more gloriously. From the counsel of peace—the agreement4 among the three persons in the divine being for the redemption of man (Korte Schets der Geref. Dogmatiek, pp. 45, 46, by Prof. Ten Hoor)—radiates to us, first of all, God’s own love-life. And exactly therein seems to be found the explanation for God’s will in this. And, further, in this then rests also God’s covenant of grace with man in Christ. That covenant cannot fail, since it is grounded in the agreement of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, which in turn roots in the very love-life of God and has as its purpose the revelation and glorifying of the same.
From this viewpoint, Christ and the Holy Ghost must also be explained from the will of the God of the covenant. The same holds for the regeneration, faith, struggle, and victory of the people of God. And even though, ultimately, the will of God in reprobation is somewhat different from what it is in election, nevertheless He wills reprobation no less than election. God realizes His covenant-conception according to His eternal counsel of election and reprobation.
Homer C. Hoeksema
1. Danhof’s figure is unusual and vivid. The covenant between the triune God and (elect) man is a kind of spiritual string, as of a musical instrument. Along it God’s own covenant life vibrates (Dutch: “natrillen”) in man. God “plucks” the string so that His own life may echo in man.
2. This is a remarkable insight. Obviously, Danhof is rejecting the charge that the sovereignty of God as conceived by the Reformed faith is cold and unfeeling. His defense, however, is that the sovereign decree (of creation and redemption) is centrally the decree of the covenant, which is essentially warm, intimate friendship between God and His people. Apart from this, Danhof suggests, sovereignty might well be cold and unfeeling. The covenant “saves” the sovereignty of God from the charge of such as James Orr. Is it perhaps the case today that Reformed people fail to proclaim and defend the sovereignty of God in predestination and providence, indeed cannot proclaim and defend the sovereignty of God, exactly because they do not see the sovereignty of God as freely ordaining and realizing the covenant of grace as fellowship with God. They do not conceive the divine sovereignty as “entirely encircled in the glow of love” (Dutch: “geheel gehuld in den gloed der liefde”).
3. Here is a different view of the relation between the covenant with Adam in Paradise and the covenant of grace with Christ and the elect church after the fall from the view which has been traditional with many Reformed theologians. The covenant with Adam was not a completely different covenant from the covenant of grace. Rather, it was a form of God’s one covenant with man. Clearly implied is the sovereignty of God in the fall of Adam governing also this aspect of history in the interests of His covenant. At the time of the writing of this booklet—1920—Danhof still accepted the traditional name of the covenant with Adam, although he differed radically with the tradition as to the nature of this covenant. Later, Herman Hoeksema would reject the name as well.
4. The reference is to the source of the covenant of grace in God Himself, what in Reformed theology has been called “the covenant of redemption.” Mistakenly regarding Zechariah 9:13 as biblical basis for the origin of the covenant in God, Reformed theologians also spoke of the “counsel of peace.” Traditionally, this was presented as an agreement either between the Father and the Son or among all three persons of the Trinity. Danhof still accepted the tradition’s view of the source of the covenant as an “agreement.” Herman Hoeksema would radically rework the doctrine of the source of the covenant. The covenant of grace has its origin in God, but this origin is the decree of the triune God appointing Jesus Christ as head and mediator of the covenant, in whom God will establish His covenant with the elect church. Hoeksema called this eternal source of the covenant—this reworked “covenant of redemption”—the “decree of the covenant” (see his Reformed Dogmatics, Grand Rapids: RFPA, 1966, pp. 285-336).