Samuel Renihan on New Covenant Union

In Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology and Biblical Theology (found in the volume Recovering a Covenantal Heritage), Micah and Samuel Renihan explain New Covenant union with Christ.

Jesus Christ has been and always will be the federal head of the covenant of grace/New Covenant. To be federally united to him you must be 1) promised to him outside of time in the covenant of redemption and 2) brought into union with him in time by the Holy Spirit.

The Son was the one elected by the Father to win the redemption of the elect. All of this is accomplished in the New Covenant, which is the historical climax of the covenant of grace. To be in the covenant of grace/New Covenant, you must be united to Christ, its federal head.17

Since the covenant of grace is the retro-active application of the New Covenant, if we posit that Christ is the mediator of the covenant of grace, we can only understand the terms of his role as mediator, and our relation to him as such, through the way that he is presented in the New Covenant. That Christ is the mediator of the covenant of grace, the New Covenant, no Reformed theologian denies. Thus, in line with New Testament doctrine, the only way to be under Christ’s federal headship is to be united to him by the Holy Spirit. This union finds its roots outside of time as we are chosen in Christ in the covenant of redemption and is applied to the elect in time by the Spirit, begun in effectual calling and consummated in the faith of the believer. Apart from saving faith there can be no union with Christ, because the Spirit does not indwell any except the elect, those who have been justified by faith.18 Christ is the one and only federal head of the covenant of grace, the New Covenant. Federal headship is never mediate, thus none can enter the covenant other than those who are directly or immediately under his federal headship by the Holy Spirit.19

17 Cf. WLC 57-59.

18 Cf. Acts 2:38, Eph. 1:13.

19 Cf. WLC 65-69.


To bring this to a conclusion, a right understanding of the membership of the covenant of grace is founded on the covenant of redemption and the New Covenant. Those who are in the covenant of grace are those who were promised to the Son by the Father in the covenant of redemption, won by the Son’s life, death, and resurrection, and sealed by the Holy Spirit, uniting them to their federal head, Jesus Christ. Laying claim to Christ and his benefits is a serious matter, and as Scripture shows, only those who have saving faith can truly make that claim. There is no external federal relation to Jesus Christ. In terms of membership or qualification, there are no distinctions in the body of Christ, that is, the church. All are sons of God through faith, under one head, indwelt by one Spirit. “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him” (Rom. 8:9). In spite of the false professions, unbelief, and lies of apostates, God knows his own, Christ knows his sheep, and the Spirit of adoption knows the children of God.26 The covenant people of God are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” (1 Pet. 2:9). The glorious New Covenant does not look to the Old for its pattern and people but stands on the eternal foundation of the covenant of redemption and comes to the elect as a covenant of grace, purchased, mediated, and eternally kept by “our great God and savior Jesus Christ who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people” (Titus 2:14).

26 Cf. 2 Tim. 2:19, John 10:27, Matt. 7:15-23, Rom. 8:16.

See also:

5 thoughts on “Samuel Renihan on New Covenant Union

  1. markmcculley

    “under his federal headship by the Holy Spirit.”

    Why not “in the Holy Spirit by God’s imputation into the federal head’s accomplished righteousness”?

    II Peter 1:1, “To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours BY THE RIGHTEOUSNESS of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.

    Romans 8:10–but if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life BECAUSE OF righteousness.

    Galatians 3:13-14– “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham would come…, so that we would receive the promised Spirit through faith.”

    Anybody who has the Holy Spirit is justified by the blood of the new covenant. Anybody who is justified by the blood of the new covenant has the Holy Spirit. I am simply agreeing with John Owen and Tobias Crisp about the priority of Christ’s death imputed as resulting in all the blessings given through the Holy Spirit. We don’t have to agree with Crisp about the imputation being eternal in order to make the imputation be the condition of the giving of the Holy Spirit. John Owen did not agree with Crisp on that timing, but neither did Owen give the Holy Spirit priority in “application”

    John Owen—No blessing can be given us for Christ’s sake, unless, in order of nature, Christ be first reckoned unto us… God’s reckoning Christ, in our present sense, is the imputing of Christ unto ungodly, unbelieving sinners for whom he died, so far as to account him theirs, and to bestow faith and grace upon them for his sake. This, then, I say, at the accomplishment of the appointed time, the Lord reckons, and accounts, and makes out his Son Christ, to such and such sinners, and for his sake gives them faith, etc. (X, 626-27)

    Mason– Christ is, in some sense, given to sinners before they believe, ‘Else why is faith given [to one sinner] at this instant for Christ’s sake, and not to another, for whom he also died?’ Faith, purchased by Christ, is given to the sinner for Christ’s sake, and so Owen ‘cannot conceive how any thing should be made out to me for Christ, and Christ himself not be given to me, he being “made unto us of God, righteousness”, 1 Corinthians 1:30’.

    We are given the Holy Spirit because we are legally adopted. We are not adopted because we have been given the Holy Spirit. Galatians 4:5, “to redeem those who were under the law, so that we would receive ADOPTION as sons. 6 And BECAUSE YOU ARE SONS, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”


    1. The Renihans state that the sealing of the Holy Spirit is because of the work of the Son. “Those who are in the covenant of grace are those who were promised to the Son by the Father in the covenant of redemption, won by the Son’s life, death, and resurrection, and sealed by the Holy Spirit, uniting them to their federal head, Jesus Christ.”

      Christ earned our union with Him. Christ earned the New Covenant. The New Covenant is made with the elect in time because of Christ’s righteousness (His completing the work of the CoR). But that is distinct from Christ’s righteousness becoming our righteousness (imputation). Owen is clear (in his mature “The Doctrine of Justification by Faith”) that this imputation follows union. It does not precede or cause it. “[T]he imputation of his righteousness unto believers is consequential in order of nature unto their union with him, whereby it becomes theirs in a peculiar manner[.]” (V, 449)

      I am simply agreeing with John Owen and Tobias Crisp about the priority of Christ’s death imputed as resulting in all the blessings given through the Holy Spirit.

      Per the above, you have misunderstood Owen. You’re quoting his early Death of Death. Make sure to read his Doctrine of Justification by Faith for important changes. Hunsinger’s essay on Owen’s view of union is very helpful in this regard. What Owen earlier refers to as “Christ first reckoned unto us” he later explains in terms of federal headship, not imputation. Thus Mason’s statement “Christ is, in some sense, given to sinners before they believe” is true if we define the “sense” as Covenant union. The New Covenant is our being made one with Christ (legally). It occurs instrumentally by the Holy Spirit, but not because ofor on the basis of the Holy Spirit in us. New Covenant union with Christ our federal head is on the basis of Christ’s righteous work and it is applied to us by the Holy Spirit. The emphasis in the Renihan’s essay on the work of the Spirit is in opposition to the paedobaptist view that insists someone can be in the covenant of grace without the Spirit. Thus their emphasis that no one is in the covenant of grace without the Spirit. Undersatnd their comments about the Spirit in terms of the effectual call (note the reference to WLC 65-69 – read those).

      Mason says “Faith, purchased by Christ, is given to the sinner for Christ’s sake.” That is true and affirm in what the Renihans have said. Faith, which Christ purchased, is a blessing of union with Christ.

      I can’t comment at this point on adoption, as I need to look at it more closely.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. markmcculley

    I will try to look again at Owen on “union” in his doctrine of justification book. As you know, “union” often goes undefined. Even when writers begin by describing three or four “unions”, or three or four “aspects of one union”, later in the process they tend to put the emphasis on one of the “unions” as the “real union”. Even though you think you avoid taking sides in the paedobaptist debates about “union”, you tend to take sides with Evans, Gaffin, and Garcia against Horton and McCormack and Boehl…

    The most basic question–are we talking about the elect being justified “in Christ” or about Christ indwelling (Christ in us)?

    There is no difference between “Christ first reckoned unto us” in terms of federal headship, and federal imputation of Christ’s righteousness (death). God placed the sins of all the elect on Christ, but in time God places elect sinners into Christ’s death. Romans 6 does not teach “union as regeneration” or “union by indwelling”. Even though Romans 6 does not use the word imputation, neither does Romans 6 use the words “by the Spirit” or “in the Spirit”. To be legally placed into Christ’s death is to be justified from the power of the guilt of sin (6:7) Though there is no justification except through faith in the gospel, that faith in the gospel is a result of God’s imputation of Christ’s righteousness.

    Of course I agree with you that no non-elect person was ever in the new covenant. But I think that imputation has the priority (over effectual call and saving faith) in saying that one elect person was in the new covenant before another elect person is in the new covenant ( Romans 16:7) Even though Christ once for all time bore all the sins of all the elect, the imputation of that death to the elect is not something God does for the elect at the same time.

    Gaffin: “Typically in the Reformation tradition the hope of salvation is expressed in terms of Christ’s righteousness, especially as imputed to the believer…however, I have to wonder if ‘Christ in you’ is not more prominent as an expression of evangelical hope…

    I disagree with Gaffin but would agree that he has Calvin on his side (3:11:10): “I confess that we are deprived of justification until Christ is made ours. Therefore, that joining together of Head and members, that indwelling of Christ in our hearts—in short, that mystical union—are accorded by us the highest degree of importance, so that Christ, having been made ours, makes us sharers with him in the gifts with which he has been endowed.. We do not, therefore, contemplate him outside ourselves from afar in order that His righteousness may be imputed to us but because we put on Christ and are engrafted into His body—in short because he deigns to make us one with Him.”

    Bruce McCormack—”The problem with such statements is that one of the ‘gifts’ Calvin writes of–regeneration–is very difficult to distinguish conceptually from that ‘union’ which is supposed to give rise to both justification and regeneration….Calvin’s break with Medieval Catholic views was not clean and complete …For where regeneration is made— if only logically–to be the root of justification, then the work of God in us is once again made to be the ground of the divine forgiveness of sins.” What’s At Stake in Current Debates Over Justification?

    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

    Garry J Williams, p 511—”How does John Owen avoid the accusation of Richard Baxter, that satisfaction would have to be applied immediately upon being made? For John Owen, the gift of faith is itself a certain result of the work of Christ, produced by it ipso facto but not ‘in immediation of time but causality.’John Owen argues for the compatiblity of identical satisfaction and delayed application on the basis of covenant (that stipulates how the satisfaction will be applied).”


  3. Pingback: Union with Christ is the New Covenant | Contrast

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