The Purpose of Covenantal Conditions
John Murray pulls no punches in his little piece The Covenant of Grace. He states that "theology must always be undergoing reformation" and "covenant theology, notwithstanding the finesse of analysis with which it was worked out ... needs recasting" (5). Quite specifically, Murray is concerned with definitions of covenant that speak to "mutual compact" between two parties of a covenant.
In place of this traditional "mutual compact," Murray provides a more simple definition of "sovereign, divine administration" from God to man. Murray begins the defense of this definition looking at the Noahic Covenant, but explorers it in the outworking of other Old Testament divine covenants. Murray's definition becomes interesting when he discusses the import of "conditions" or "stipulations" within other divine covenants.
For example in God's covenant with Abraham, Murray writes,
"The keeping of the covenant, therefore, so far from being incompatible with the nature of the covenant as an administration of grace, divine in its initiation, confirmation, and fulfillment, is a necessity arising from the intimacy and spirituality of the religious relationship involved. The more enhanced our conception of the sovereign Grace bestowed the more we are required to posit reciprocal faithfulness on the part of the recipient." (18)
To put in more simple terms, Murray is stating the greater the grace the more "covenant faithfulness" is required. Not because of the covenant itself, but the religious relationship that the covenant brings the participants into. What is the role of these conditions or "covenant faithfulness?" And do they undermine the monergistic nature of God's covenants? Murray of course says they do not:
"They are simply the reciprocal response of faith, love and obedience, apart from which the enjoyment of the covenant blessing and of the covenant relation is inconceivable. In a word, keeping the covenant presupposes the covenant relation as established rather than the condition upon which it's establishment is contingent." (19)
The foundation of the covenant is entirely in the hands of God. And the hands of God are not tied to our obedience in any capacity.
"It is when viewed in this light that the breaking of the covenant takes on an entirely different complexion. It is not the failure to meet the terms of a pact nor failure to respond to the offer of favourable terms of contractual agreement. It is unfaithfulness to a relationship constituted and to grace dispensed. By breaking the covenant what is broken is not the condition of the bestowal but the condition of consummated fruition." (19)
From this Murray proceeds to discuss the remaining Old Testament covenant revealing how they are consistent with the Abrahamic covenant in not requiring a view of covenant that stipulates "mutual compact or agreement."