Keach on Union with Christ

Modern paedobaptsits have been arguing with eachother for decades about union with Christ. They each have a piece of the puzzle, but they can’t put the whole puzzle together because of their unbiblical covenant theology. The solution to the “union with Christ” conundrum is that union with Christ is the covenant of grace (new covenant). Here are some words from Keach (point 4), where he appeals to and quotes Nehemiah Coxe to explain New Covenant union.

Take heed on what you build your Hopes of Justification and Salvation, what is that which bears up your Spirits: for if you are Trees that grow not out of the true root, Jesus Christ, and the Covenant of Grace; if you have not Union with the Lord Jesus, or are not built on that Foundation, or Corner-stone God hath laid in Sion, down you fall; for now the ax is laid to the Root of the Trees…

Now, from the whole, it seems to me to be a strange Thing, which is lately asserted, viz.

‘That the Infant Seed of Believers, (during their Infancy) have all of them a certain Interest in the Covenant of Grace: By vertue of which, they are compleatly Justified before God, from the Guilt of Original Sin, both Originans, and Originations; and yet, when they come to Years of Discretion, may (yea must) by their actual closing with, or refusing the Terms of the Covenant, either obtain the continuation, and confirmation of their Covenant Interest, or be utterly, and finally cut off from it, and so perish Eternally in their Ignorance of God, and Rebellion against him.

Answer, To which I must say, That they seem to make the Covenant of Grace, such a Conditional Covenant, that renders it in Nature and Quality, like the Sinai Covenant, or Covenant of Works, i.e. If they perform the Righteousness required, they shall live; if they Obey not, or make not Good, this pretended Covenant of Grace, they shall dye, or be cut off: Let our Brethren, who are found in the Doctrine of Free-Grace, consider this.

2. And as the Promises of the New Covenant, will admit of no such partial Interest, (saith a Learned Author) so neither can this Opinion consist with the Analogy of Faith, in other Respects; for either the stain of Original Sin, in these Infants is purged, and the dominion of Concupiscence in them destroyed, when their Guilt is pardoned, or it is not; if it be, then the Case of these Infants, in point of Perseverance, is the same with Adult Persons, that are under Grace, by actual Faith; and then a final Apostacy, from the Grace of the New Covenant, must be allowed to befall the one, as well as the other, notwithstanding all Provisions of that Covenant, and Engagement of God therein, to make the Promise sure to all the Seed, Rom. 4:16.

But this the Author will not admit: If he say, That their Guilt is pardoned, but their Natures are not changed, or renewed, nor the Power of Original Corruption destroyed, so as that Sin, shall not have Dominion over them; it will be replyed, That then, notwithstanding their supposed Pardon, they remain as an unclean Thing, and so uncapable of admission into the Kingdom of God. Thus this worthy Author.

3. To which let me add, Certainly if Divine Habits were in those Infants, they would immediately be manifested; or be sure when they are grown up, would appear in them by gracious Operations flowing from thence: But since those Acts, or Products of such a gracious Habit, appear not in them, ’tis evident, they never had them infused.

4. All that are in the Covenant of Grace, (if they live) the Fruits of Faith and Holiness, will flow naturally from those sacred Habits, God hath by his spirit planted in them, as heat and light doth from the Fire, when ’tis kindled on the Hearth. The Truth is, such who are united to Christ, and have Faith in him, and so are actually in the Covenant of Grace, are also washed and purged from Sin, and Pollution, see Ezek. 16; Rom. 5:14; Act. 15:10. None can have Union with Christ, but by the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit; and wheresoever the Spirit of Christ is, it applies, The Blood of the Covenant, not only for Pardon, but also for the purging the Conscience from dead Works, to serve the living God: ‘And therefore, (as the same Learned Author observes) as certain as any derive a New Covenant Right from Christ for Pardon, they also receive a vital Influence from him, for the renovation of their Natures, and conforming their Souls to his Image: Therefore, to assert, That the Grace of Christ, is applied to some, for remission of Sins only, or that the guilt of any Sin, can be pardoned to any Person, and yet that Sin retains its Dominion over them, is a Doctrine, I understand, not to be sound, or agreeable to the Doctrine that is according to Godliness.

Keach, B. (1693). Sermon III. In The Ax Laid to the Root, Parts I & II (Vol. 2, pp. 12–13). London: John Harris.


Compare the above with Coxe on New Covenant Union with Christ.

See also

10 thoughts on “Keach on Union with Christ

  1. markmcculley

    Is “union” both forensic and non-forensic?

    Once a writer has defined “union”, will that writer consistently use the word “union” in the way the person first defined it?

    If “faith-union” is a result of faith, and if faith is a result of regeneration, where do faith and regeneration come from?

    If “union” is transformation, and union must come before God’s imputation, how is it that God is any sense justifying the ungodly?

    If “union” is regeneration, and if faith comes before “union”, does this mean that faith coms before “regeneration”?

    If becoming children of God means being born again so that we are freed by regeneration from corruption, what is the need for those who are no longer ungodly to at that pointed be adopted or imputed with Christ’s righteousness?

    Charles Hodge—“The first effect of faith, according to the Scriptures is union with Christ. We are in him by faith. ..Included in the stipulations of that covenant, his people, so far as adults are concerned, should not receive the saving benefits of that covenant until they were united to Him by a voluntary act of faith. They are ‘by nature the children of wrath, even as others.’ (Ephesians 2:3) They remain in this state of condemnation until they believe. Their union is consummated by faith. To be in Christ, as to believe in Christ are, therefore , in the Scriptures, convertible forms of expression. They mean the same thing, and therefore, the same effects are attributed to faith as are attributed to union with Christ”

    Scott Clark argues that faith is the “instrument” of “union” (In Christ, and I guess also, Christ in us) –In Hodge’s ordo salutis, faith is not a result of mystical union. Rather, mystical union is, as Hodge said, “the first effect of faith.” “The proximate effect of this union, and consequently the second effect of faith is justification…Faith is the condition on which God promises in the covenant of redemption, to impute unto men the righteousness of Christ. As soon, therefore, as they believe, they cannot be condemned. ”

    mark mcculley–Scott Clark encourages us to ask ourselves if we believe the gospel, but we are discouraged from asking ourselves if we believe in election, because it’s assumed that asking that would mean asking ourselves to know that we ourselves are elect before believing the gospel. But believing in our own election is not the same thing as presuming that we ourselves are elect. But this idea about “don’t think about election” is a way to leave the truth just atonement (only for the elect, saving all the elect) out of the gospel which we are commanded to believe


  2. markmcculley

    Mark Jones– “The position that faith followed imputation was not typical of Reformed thought in his day but rather was associated with antinomianism….Any view that posits faith as a consequence of imputation (John Cotton) is not the typical Reformed position.

    Evans: Thus Bruce McCormack takes Calvin to task for saying that justification flows from mystical union with Christ. This, according to McCormack “would seem to make justification the effect of a logically prior ‘participation’ in Christ that has been effected by the uniting action of the Holy Spirit.” This, he says, is a problem from a truly Reformational standpoint in that “the work of God ‘in us’ is, once again (and now on the soil of the Reformation!) made to be the ground of the divine forgiveness of sins.” (Bruce McCormack, “What’s At Stake in the Current Debates over Justification,” in Justification: What’s at Stake in the Current Debates, ed. Mark Husbands and Daniel J. Treier [IVP, 2004], pp. 101-102, 113-117).

    Is it the faith that God the Holy Spirit gives us that unites us to Christ which then causes God to impute righteousness to us? Are we the imputers, or is God the imputer?

    Does God’s imputation depend on us? Does God’s imputation depend on first God regenerating us? Isn’t regeneration also a benefit from Christ’s righteousness? Did Christ die to purchase regeneration for the elect? Or does the Holy Spirit give us faith in order to make the death of Christ work?

    Many “Reformed” people teach us that “faith unites us too Christ”, and then after that, God imputes Christ’s righteousness. Some “Reformed” even say that God counts this “uniting faith” for something it really isn’t—they say God counts that faith as the righteousness.

    Calvin (3:2:10)–”Christ, having been made ours, makes us sharers with Him in the gifts with which he has been endowed.”

    Bruce McCormack—”The problem with such statements is that one of the ‘gifts’ Calvin speaks of–regeneration–is very difficult to distinguish conceptually from that ‘union’ which is supposed to give rise to BOTH justification AND REGENERATION

    Jonathan Gibson, “The Glorious, Indivisible, Trinitarian Work of Christ”, From Heaven He Came, p 352—”Some conclude that the efficacy of Christ’s work occurs only at the point of faith, and not before. This ignores the fact that union with Christ precedes any reception of Christ’s work by faith

    When the Westminster Confession speaks of “being baptized by the Spirit into one body”, that confession has zero biblical support. Christ is the one who baptizes into and with the Spirit. Neither I Corinthians 12: 13 or any other text says that the Holy Spirit baptizes into one body.

    I Corinthians 12 teaches that Christ gives the Spirit, not that the Spirit gives Christ—not by the Spirit, but with or into the Spirit, as so the other NT references. Ephesians 4:8 quotes Psalm 68: “when he ascended on high, he gave gifts to men.” Effectual calling by God the Father does not assume that it’s the Holy Spirit who includes us into Christ.

    In Mark and John, the Baptist proclaimed that Jesus “will baptize in the Holy Spirit”; while in Matthew and Luke, Christ “will baptize with Holy Spirit and fire”. The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus Christ during his baptism, and Christ was anointed with power (certainly this is NOT a baptism by the Spirit into Christ).

    Matthew 3:11: …He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit…”
    Mark 1:8: …He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit…”
    Luke 3:16: “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit…”
    Luke 24:49: …stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” (see fulfillment in Acts 2).
    John 1:33: …the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.”
    Acts 1:4-5: …you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit…”
    Acts 2:14-18: …I will pour out my Spirit…” (quoting Joel 2:28-29).
    Acts 8:14-17: …prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit…”; …as yet the Spirit had not yet come upon any of them…”; …they received the Holy Spirit…”; …the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands….”
    Acts 10:44-48: “The Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word…”; …the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out…”; …people who have received the Holy Spirit…”
    Acts 11:15-16: …the Holy Spirit fell upon them…”; …you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit…”
    Acts 19:1-6: “Did you receive the Holy Spirit…?”; …the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied…”
    1 Cor 12:13: “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free…”

    Even if it could be proven that at least one adult child born to one parent professing to be a Christian was a regenerate adult, that would not be a reason to conclude that all adult children born to parents professing to be Christians are part of the new covenant or part of the visible church. Even if it could be proven that at least one infant born to one parent professing to be a Christian was a regenerate infant, that would not be a reason to water all such infants.


  3. Hi Mark, it’s hard to tell how you see these quotes relating to the content of the post. If you could include a word or two of explanation when you post quotes like this, it would be very helpful.


  4. markmcculley

    Thanks for the caution. I share your inclination to make distinctions between covenants. But now I am also concerned that in saying that “new covenant is union with Christ”, we don’t end up flattening everything out again into one covenant. Some Reformed folks like Robert Rayburn can read Hebrews to say that there is no old and new but merely the same one covenant. If we simply define “new covenant is the one salvation”, we could finish in the same place.

    Make no mistake. I think we would all agree that all the different covenants are in the purpose of God (God’s predestinating decree) But If the new covenant is “union with Christ”, and all who are justified are united with Christ, and if Adam was united to Christ, then the new covenant begins before the covenants with Abraham and Moses. (So is the “new” in contrast to the covenant with Adam?)

    I do agree with you. Brandon, that, even though there is a works aspect to the Abrahamic covenant, the phrase “old covenant” in the Bible refers to the Mosaic covenant.

    Of course it’s easier for me to ask these questions than for me to answer them. And as you suggest, me simply quoting folks is playing safe and not putting my own thoughts out there for criticism or interaction.

    I do think that one thing we need is more definition of “union with Christ”. This explains my concern above about Christ giving the Spirit, not the Spirit giving Christ. We should not simply divide up “union” into “mystical and federal” and stop thinking about the difference between “in Christ” and “Christ in us”.

    The disagreement about “union” between paedobaptists (to which you refer in your post above) is not one we escape simply by not watering infants. Does God’s imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the elect have logical priority over regeneration? Credobaptists tend to say they want visible churches of those who profess the new birth—but why not say that we want visible churches of those who profess to be justified before God?

    Berkhof—-“It is sometimes said that the merits of Christ cannot be imputed to us as long as we are not in Christ, since it is only on the basis of our oneness with Him that such an imputation could be reasonable. But this view fails to DISTINGUISH between our legal unity with Christ and our spiritual oneness with Him, and is a falsification of the fundamental element in the doctrine of redemption, namely, of the doctrine of justification. Justification is always a declaration of God, not on the basis of an existing (or future) condition, but on that of a gracious imputation–a declaration which is NOT in harmony with the existing condition of the sinner. The judicial ground for all the grace which we receive lies in the fact that the righteousness of Christ is freely imputed to us.”


    1. I would encourage you to read Owen’s commentary on Hebrews 8:6-13 to better understand the perspective. “New” is in contrast to the “Old” Mosaic Covenant. Owen explains that it is “new” as an established covenant, but it is not new as it existed as the promise and was efficacious to save since the fall. There is no way to fall into Rayburn’s error from 1689 Federalism’s belief about new covenant union.

      Re: “Old Covenant” I believe it refers to the Mosaic Covenant, not the Abrahamic.

      Regarding quoting other people – I have no problem with you just putting the ideas out there, but there just needs to be a little more clarification as to how you see them relating to the present post, as it is not obvious whether you are agreeing, disagreeing, objecting, neither, both, etc…

      As far as defining union – that is precisely why defining union with Christ as the New Covenant gives us greater precision and clarity, as opposed to the common ambiguity. Please see

      I do not believe that we should divide union into mystical and federal. All my posts on the subject have been arguing that we should not do that. Please see those posts.

      And yes, rejecting paedobaptist covenant theology does escape the disagreement between paedobaptists over union because it provides the true solution: the covenant of grace is union with Christ (a point neither of them can admit since they believe people are in the covenant of grace who are not united to Christ).

      No, God’s imputation of Christ’s righteousness does not have logical priority over regeneration. The imputation of Christ’s righteousness is grounded in our prior union with Christ. Regeneration is also grounded in union with Christ, which is established in the effectual call. Faith is a blessing of union with Christ (the new covenant). Again, please see my other posts on this topic which go into great detail (feel free to ask clarifying questions – but I have addressed this point).

      “Credobaptists tend to say they want visible churches of those who profess the new birth—but why not say that we want visible churches of those who profess to be justified before God? ”

      We don’t say we want churches of those who profess the new birth. We say we want churches of those who profess saving faith.


  5. markmcculley

    Thanks, as I have time, I will reread and study your posts on “union”.

    Brandon–“Regeneration is also grounded in union with Christ, which is established in the effectual call”

    Have you clarified a distinction between regeneration and the effectual call? Since faith (saving hearing) in the gospel is the result of the effectual call, does this mean that “the new covenant” is “saving faith”? What does it mean to say that union is “established in” the new covenant?

    I agree with John Owen that “federal union” does not mean “eternal justification”.

    Is “new covenant” another way to say “the covenant with the elect only” or the “covenant of redemption”?

    I disagree with Lane Tipton– “No aspect of forensic justification comes to believers (logically or temporally) prior to union with Christ by faith” [WTJ 75 (2013): 10].

    I agree with Abraham Booth (Glad Tidings, p 238) “According to fatalism, the word of truth having no influence, is of no use in regeneration, the salutary and important change being produced entirely without it..It is too hastily assumed that the mind is prepared to receive the light of spiritual knowledge before the truth have any influence on it.”

    Booth, p 247 “Now the question is: Do the Scriptures lead us to conclude that the mind and the conscience are brought into the new state by an immediate divine energy, without the medium of either the law or the gospel? I think not. It is written: by the law is the knowledge of sin…For an ‘awakened sinner’ to be persuaded that regeneration is effected without the instrumentality of divine truth, is to give an injurious direction to his prayers and expectations.

    I also agree with Horton when he writes (in “Covenant Union”) about his “reservations about the notion that regeneration produces a habitual change and involves the infusion of new habits.. This he sees as a lingering residue of the medieval ontology that eventually made the Reformation necessary. …the notion sometime present in Reformed treatments of the ordo salutis that regeneration is prior to effectual calling and produces an antecedent state … That notion is quite problematic and ought to be rejected”


    1. Thanks for the questions.

      The effectual call causes regeneration. It is distinct. I agree with John Murray’s assessment (he identifies the effectual call with union).

      Since faith (saving hearing) in the gospel is the result of the effectual call, does this mean that “the new covenant” is “saving faith”?

      I’m not sure where you would get this idea. As I have said, the new covenant is union with Christ. Faith is a blessing/benefit of the new covenant/union with Christ.

      New covenant = union with Christ = effectual call

      The new covenant is a legal relationship between the elect and Christ. The elect sinner enters the new covenant in the effectual call (in other words, the effectual call is God making the new covenant with the elect sinner – who until that moment has been “in Adam”). All the blessings that Christ purchased in his life and death (per the Covenant of Redemption) are poured out upon the elect sinner once the new covenant is made with them.

      Is “new covenant” another way to say “the covenant with the elect only” or the “covenant of redemption”?

      The New Covenant is the Covenant of Grace, which is made only with the elect. Christ is the surety and mediator of the elect in the New Covenant (he is not so in the Covenant of Redemption – see my long post on Owen’s view of union for an elaboration).

      I fail to see the relevance of Booth’s quote. I agree with it.

      I have not looked closely at Horton’s comments on regeneration, but I am not inclined to follow him in any of this.


  6. markmcculley

    Most Reformed folks (Barcellos for example) call the transaction between Father and Son “the covenant of redemption”. But you seem to use to use the term “the new covenant” as being BOTH “the covenant of redemption” but also as something distinct from the the “eternal transaction” and “founded upon ” that transaction

    Brandon–“the New Covenant is founded upon that eternal transaction (LBC 7.3) between the Father and the Son (I would equate what is commonly called the Covenant of Redemption with the New Covenant).”

    Barcellos–Some Christians have confessed in a formal, public manner that this pre-temporal (or before-time) plan of salvation is actually revealed to us as a covenant between the Father and the Son before time began. This has been termed the covenant of redemption. It is a covenant between the Father and the Son for the salvation of sinners made before the creation of the heavens and the earth. In fact, our church’s Confession of Faith asserts this doctrine as follows: “[The covenant of grace] is founded in that eternal covenant transaction that was between the Father and the Son about the redemption of the elect” (2 LCF 7.3).
    And then in 2LCF 8.1, we read, “It pleased God, in His eternal purpose, to choose and ordain the Lord Jesus, His only begotten Son, according to the covenant made between them both, to be the mediator between God and man . . .”

    Brandon—The new covenant is union with Christ. Faith is a blessing/benefit of the new covenant/union with Christ. New covenant = union with Christ = effectual call

    mark–does this mean that “the new covenant” is “the effectual call? So that we profess “saving faith”? We profess having been “effectually called”? We profess now being in the new covenant?


    1. Back in 2010 I did follow Keach and Gill (and WCF) in combining the CoR and the CoG into the same covenant. However, I now distinguish them and identify the New Covenant as the Covenant of Grace.

      mark–does this mean that “the new covenant” is “the effectual call? So that we profess “saving faith”? We profess having been “effectually called”? We profess now being in the new covenant?

      The effectual call is God making the New Covenant with us. The New Covenant is much broader than just the effectual call. Regardless of my view of union, any Calvinist who professes saving faith also believes they have been effectually called and are in the new covenant. So I’m not really sure what you are getting at with your question.


  7. Pingback: Samuel Renihan on New Covenant Union | Contrast

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