Theological Division


Historical Theology


Richard A. Muller

Reader 1

John Bolt


Mariano Avila


Joan Beelan

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Theology (Th.M)


Covenant of grace, Hoeksema, Fellowship with God


This thesis is a study of the doctrine of the covenant of grace as developed by the Protestant Reformed theologian Herman Hoeksema (1886-1965). In the thesis I will focus particularly on Hoeksema's teaching that the covenant of grace is unconditional, both in its establishment and its maintenance. I will demonstrate that already in the early 1920s, while yet a minister in the Christian Reformed Church, Hoeksema's understanding of the covenant was impacted by his convictions concerning election. Throughout his lifetime Hoeksema never wavered from his fundamental view of the covenant of grace in its relationship to God's sovereign, gracious decree of election. Hoeksema formulated his views already in the early years of his ministry, especially in connection with his writing for the rubric "Our Doctrine" in the periodical of the Christian Reformed Church, the Banner. Hoeksema served as editor of this department and wrote regularly—nearly every week—for four years, from September 1918 through September 1922. In these articles, in which he traced the historical development of the kingdom of God, kingdom and covenant often intersect. Soon after he was terminated as an editor of the Banner, Hoeksema and others founded a new religious periodical, the Standard Bearer, of which he was editor-in-chief for some forty years. It was in the pages of the Standard Bearer that he continued to develop his understanding of the doctrine of the covenant, as well as his polemic against those who departed from the biblical and confessional line. It was especially in his book De geloovigen en hun wad, that Hoeksema first set forth his unconditional covenant view. The contents of this book originally appeared as a series of articles in the Standard Bearer in 1927. Later the book was translated into English and published under the title Believers and Their Seed: Children in the Covenant. Hoeksema's position that fellowship with God is the essence of the covenant, that membership in the covenant is limited to the elect, and that the covenant is established and maintained unconditionally, represented divergence from at least some of the instruction he had. received in his seminary training, as well as the prevailing consensus among both Dutch and American Reformed theologians. This is not to say that there is no support for Hoeksema's unconditional covenant view within the tradition; as a matter of fact, there is strong support, as I will indicate. More importantly, however, as far as Hoeksema was concerned, he was convinced that his position was supported by Scripture and the Reformed confessions. Hoeksema faced a significant challenge to his position in the controversy over the covenant that raged—not too strong a word 'n the Protestant Reformed Churches in the 1950s. This controversy was precipitated by those in the PRCA who wanted to receive into the denomination the post-World War II immigrants to the United States and Canada who had left the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (Liberated). These immigrants and their supporters agreed with Dr. Klaas Sander, who taught that the covenant is conditional and includes all the natural children of believers, and thus, more than only the elect. Throughout his ministry Hoeksema remained committed to essentially the same doctrine of the covenant. Steadfastly he maintained that the essence of God's covenant of grace is friendship, that membership in the covenant is limited to the elect, and that the covenant is unconditional. As I will demonstrate, although Hoeksema developed in his understanding of the covenant throughout his nearly fifty-year career as minister of the gospel, professor of theology, author, and editor of a leading Reformed periodical, he did not deviate from the main lines of the covenant conception that he articulated already in the early years of his ministry. In addition, I will demonstrate that in taking the position that the essence of God's covenant of grace is friendship, that membership in the covenant is limited to the elect, and that the covenant is unconditional Hoeksema was consciously centering his covenant conception within the Reformed tradition. IIis view was not novel. He was not taking a position on the fringe, much less outside of the Reformed tradition. Rather, Hoeksema enthusiastically embraced a doctrine of the covenant that was developed by leading Reformed theologians from the Reformation onward and made it his own.



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