Source and Nature of the Covenant of Grace
Reformed Free Publishing Association
This is an extract from chapter 3 of "The Idea of the Covenant of Grace" by Henry Danhof, from The Rock Whence We Are Hewn God: Grace and Covenant, a collection of works by Herman Hoeksema and Henry Danhof, pages 31-32, published by the RFPA.
SOURCE AND NATURE OF THE COVENANT OF GRACE
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 in himself by virtue of his 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 covenantal relation between Creator and creature and between the creatures mutually. The absolute covenantal conception is hidden in the family life of the holy Trinity.
No one therefore will ever succeed in fathoming the covenantal idea in all its depth. Yet one can see fairly easily that all relation, reciprocal action, and mutual fellowship among Father, Son, and Holy Ghost must be and take place according to the nature of the covenant, for God is one in being and three in persons. The three persons are all equally possessors of the same divine essence. In their personal substances 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 differences of their individual, personal properties is found the possibility for the highest fellowship and cooperation. The oneness and differences of the persons give eternal, divine harmony. The love-life of God, welling up out of the unfathomable depths of the essence and decreed by Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, pours 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. Even though these outgoing works are free and decreed, they are nevertheless works of a self-revealing God. Because the absolute covenantal idea is grounded in God’s nature and manner of life, all revelation must be revelation of the God of the covenant, since it can be nothing other than self-revelation of the Trinity. Although we may not suppose that God exhausts himself in his self-revelation, we will certainly have to assume that an impression of the absolute covenantal idea in the Trinity is found in the highest creature, since God created man according to his image.
In my opinion, this covenantal idea in man is not completely 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 absolute covenantal life vibrate continuously in the creature, and by the vibrating of that band, man echoes the life of God in his life. In his most sublime fellowship with the Eternal One, man is friend of God. The covenant causes God and man to live together as friends. In this the covenant-idea is completely realized. Accordingly, in his wonderful vision of the kingdom of glory John saw the tabernacle of God with men.
Man is friend of God. God has conceived him so. That is God’s will concerning man. Toward the fellowship of friendship with God man 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 and rational being he can turn into his very opposite and by this become a covenantal 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 that man of God, God’s conception of the covenant 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, soul, mind, and powers, he responds to the Eternal’s act of friendship 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 as friend of God would man ever be able more perfectly to show forth the praises of him who called him out of darkness into his marvelous light. God then has also willed the covenant first 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 covenantal 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. IX, 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.” 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 nature, is no less a fruit of his will. Strictly speaking the one presupposes the other. Nevertheless, the 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.